Thursday, April 17, 2014
What is the governor hiding? And why?
This afternoon, the Legislature's Judiciary Committee will work on L.D. 1805, a bill that would help the governor hide even more of his activities.
The session will be at 2 p.m. in room 438 at the State House.
I spoke against this bill at a press conference last week along with Mike Dowd, president of the Maine Press Association; Suzanne Goucher, president of the Maine Broadcasters Association and the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition; Mal Leary, the veteran State House news reporter; Jim Henderson, retired state archivist; Shenna Bellows of the Maine Civil Liberties Union, and others.
As a full-time writer these days, a founding member of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition and an associate member of the Maine Press Association, L.D. 1805 alarms me. It would allow the governor and any employee in his office to keep secret their work on a host of issues and proposals, reports, and more.
Bellows reported that, "Under the proposal, the governor could conceivably keep budget information, data, program performance reviews and information about internal departmental deficiencies secret, hiding behind the claim that he is contemplating or preparing some manner of report or legislation."
I've worked at all levels of government. I've been a town councilor, selectman, county commissioner and lobbyist at the Legislature. I have served on many state agency task forces, been confirmed by the state Senate for some positions, and even worked for the U.S. Congress.
I know first-hand that elected and unelected politicians and government officials prefer to do their work in secrecy. And I understand why. The public -- to be blunt -- can be a pain in the butt.
And we should be a pain in their butts, because when the government's work is done in secrecy, our public servants end up staying in luxury hotels in Quebec City and Paris and gambling in Las Vegas casinos, and the people get "violetted." We are very tired of getting "violetted" by those who are supposed to work for us.
Hiding the shenanigans of the government from the public is a pervasive problem, and only the state and federal Freedom of Information Act gives us any chance of catching those who behave badly.
Just last week in this newspaper, we learned that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, after paying $300,000 for a 35-foot boat to monitor whale watch boats, instead used it as a "party boat for bureaucrats," in the words of U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts. Brown obtained the records about the boat's use through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Citizens play an important role in a free society, and the more we know, the better citizens we can be. We need to know more than the final proposal. We need to know how it was created and who created it. The "who created it" is especially important.
The governor forgets who he's working for these days. When he worked at Mardens, would he keep secrets from Mickey Marden? I think not. And these days, he works for us. In this situation, we're Mickey Marden, and Paul LePage is the manager of our business. And the state government is very definitely our business.
After promising the most transparent government in history, Gov. Paul LePage instead has delivered the most secretive. I've hung out at the Capitol for 40 years and never experienced anything like the secrecy of this administration. People in the administration are fearful of disclosing even a single tidbit of information.
I can't get an answer from the governor's press secretary to even the most innocuous of questions. I don't ask a lot of questions, but I've never even had the courtesy of an acknowledgement that my question was received. Honestly, I've never seen anything like this.
These are not state secrets that we must keep from our enemies, Governor. This is the business you are conducting for us. And we're not your enemy!
The governor does not need the encouragement of this legislation to hide his work from us. Shame on any legislator who helps the governor keep this information from the people he and they work for.
The promise of our nation is government by the people and for the people, not government hidden from the people. We want service, not secrecy, openness, not obstructionism. We want more than the gospel according to Paul. We want all the books of the gospel.
At the press conference, I challenged LePage to keep his promise of the most transparent government in history, and said he could begin by withdrawing this legislation.
But the legislation marches forward, in the hands of the members of the Judiciary Committee. The good news is this: Their discussion and votes will be public.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith's writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.