Sunshine Daydreams and the Guv

On the necessity of open government and a leader who will—love it or hate it—work with the press.

Photograph by Luigi Ciuffetelli

As a former newspaper reporter, I’ve always believed in the people’s right to know what’s happening in their government. Lord knows we’ve had enough discussion about it recently, given the introduction of a bill that would subject the legislature to the Freedom of Information Act.

This would be a good thing. In his day, former Senate President Pro Tempore Tom Sharp absolutely refused to speak to the press, though he held arguably the most important position in the legislature. His successor, Thurman Adams, has been nearly as tight lipped (or at least unavailable) on some issues.

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I stress that the president pro tem almost single-handedly decides which bills will be addressed by the Senate. That’s a lot of control for one person to have over our democratic process. I believe there are situations where the people need to be enlightened. Our elected officials should be obligated to provide it.

Both Sharp and Adams were contemporaries of our governor. Ruth Ann Minner may be famously reticent with the press on some issues, but, as our chief executive, she has a responsibility to keep us informed, whether she wants that responsibility or not. When the paper is forced to print that sources believe she was out of the state on official business when a major story breaks, something certainly seems to be wrong.

That’s not to say the governor won’t speak. When I was a young reporter (well over 15 years ago), Senator Minner tipped me to a couple of important stories that did much to help establish me as a responsible journalist in the sometimes shark-infested waters of Legislative Hall. So I owe her my thanks for that and, now, for speaking to contributor Bob Yearick for this month’s feature story, “Has Anyone Seen Our Governor Lately?” on page 68.

I mean the governor no disrespect, and I certainly don’t intend to diminish the importance of undeniable triumphs such as the Clean Indoor Air Act, which banned smoking in restaurants and other places. (Other states did, after all, follow Minner’s lead.)

I wish only to say that, when the transition to her successor begins next year, Minner counsel him or her to be more forthright about problems. Honesty—and full disclosure—are the best policies.

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