EDITORIAL: Disregard for right to know - Beloit Daily News: Opinion

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EDITORIAL: Disregard for right to know

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Posted: Monday, September 16, 2013 4:00 pm

Citizens should be outraged by attack on transparency in government.

THERE HAVE BEEN a number of dubious “firsts” in Wisconsin politics the past few years, but this one is breathtaking.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, has responded to an open records case by saying, in essence, she’s above the law and the courts can’t make her turn over anything.

To make it worse, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen is agreeing with her, arguing in a Dane County Circuit Court motion that legislators are not subject to civil process while in session under Wisconsin’s Constitution. Recent practice has been for legislative sessions to last from the day members are sworn in until the next election’s winners take office, meaning no sitting legislator ever could be subject to court challenge under Vukmir’s stance. The idea that constitutional clause ever was intended to shield legislators from following the civil laws of the state is ludicrous. It’s a new low in responsiveness to the people and a new high in arrogant disregard for citizens’ right to know.

THE FACTS OF THE CASE are really irrelevant to Vukmir’s immunity claim, but here they are anyway. The liberal-leaning Center for Media and Democracy sought records from Vukmir about her ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and eventually filed suit under Wisconsin’s open records law when she failed to satisfy the request. ALEC is a conservative-leaning organization known for writing national model legislation. The organization has been known for hatching creative strategies in an effort to avoid the various states’ open records laws.

In a strange twist, Vukmir’s office attempted to duck process servers from presenting them with paperwork for the lawsuit. The matter is even being investigated over a process server’s allegation that a Vukmir aide chased him down, shoved him, and threw the paperwork at him after the summons was presented. The aide contests that version of the story, but doesn’t deny there was a confrontation.

Now Vukmir insists that she, as an elected legislator, is not subject to the civil case and therefore does not have to produce records from her office for public inspection. If that argument prevails, legislative records could be kept secret for years from the people.

THE APPROPRIATE REACTION from the people is a sputtering red rage at the depths of arrogance underlying such a claim. Republican or Democrat, these men and women serve in the people’s name. They are expected to act in the people’s interest. Thumbing their nose at the people and sneering at the principle of open government is an insult to democracy.

Remember: No public official, at any level, performing their duties ethically and in accord with the law ever needs to fear the disclosure of records generated during their time in office. Only those with something to hide — something they don’t want the people to know — have reason to fear transparency.

Wisconsin has been a national leader for many years in upholding the people’s right to know. Republican, Democrat or Independent, every citizen should be proud of that and guard its continuation. Government information, with only a handful of narrow exceptions, belongs to the people. That’s a fundamental principle of liberty.

BY MAKING SUCH a repugnant claim, Leah Vukmir throws her fitness for public office into serious question.

Likewise, as long as he remains in lockstep with Vukmir on this matter, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen casts a shadow over his own fitness to serve. The people should expect an attorney general to defend access to government information, not to conspire with secret-keepers. 

Transparency is not a partisan issue. And transparency is not an ideological issue. Transparency is a hallmark of good government.

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4 comments:

  • Mr Data posted at 5:10 pm on Sun, Sep 22, 2013.

    Mr Data Posts: 3824

    First, lucky, the AP chose to compare 2011 to 2102. I simply included what THEY (the AP) have found about the Obama admin. After 5 and half years of Obama at the helm of our nation, when will liberals stop trying to blame their failing on Bush?

    He's long gone and good riddance!

    Second, I was commenting about the BDN's choice of demonizing an unknown state of WI senator for one incident of transparency resistance, rather than telling us about the real enemy of government transparency .. our very own US federal government and all their failed transparency as documented by the AP.

    Just as leonid58 has the right to make his comments; I have believe I do have the right to do the same, lucky, even if YOU disagree with what I say.

    I know you will always deny any wrong doing at the federal level on the part of the Obama admin, but I have to agree with what the AP says. This is not a transparent federal government and I for one, fear that behavior and will not condone or support it.

    I hope others hold the same concerns I do.

     
  • luckydog posted at 1:45 pm on Sun, Sep 22, 2013.

    luckydog Posts: 3588

    MrData, leonid58 asked for a response to this issue not for a right wing rant that tries desperately to change the subject. I seem to remember plenty of complaints about the Bush administration's lack of openness. I notice that you chose to compare 2011 with 2012 rather than choose any year from the Bush administration.

     
  • Mr Data posted at 11:18 am on Sun, Sep 22, 2013.

    Mr Data Posts: 3824

    "Remember: No public official, at any level, performing their duties ethically and in accord with the law ever needs to fear the disclosure of records generated during their time in office. Only those with something to hide — something they don’t want the people to know — have reason to fear transparency. ..... ... The idea that constitutional clause ever was intended to shield legislators from following the civil laws of the state is ludicrous. It’s a new low in responsiveness to the people and a new high in arrogant disregard for citizens’ right to know. ....Transparency is not a partisan issue. And transparency is not an ideological issue. Transparency is a hallmark of good government." the BDN

    If the BDN is truly concerned about government transparency, I would expect it to write about the most UN-transparent administration in the history of our nation (the one currently in our White House), rather than demean an unknown state of WI senator - Leah Vukmir's, who IS allowing the court to determine what the state's constitution really means.

    Not what liberals, conservatives, or the BDN thinks it was 'intended' to mean.

    This is a major problem in our nation today. Liberals believe THEY get to decide what is right and what is wrong. Conservatives expect to do the same. And our media, who has been shirking its' 'government watchdog .. fourth estate' responsibility for far too long can't even differentiate good government from bad government today because our media, at all levels, has become far too politicized itself!

    FYI, all, from the AP. " The Associated Press found that the current federal government claimed “national security” over and over like a bunch of 'drunk parrots', they also claimed the need to protect “internal deliberations.” Specifically, the number of times the government withheld or censored reports in 2012 was 479,000 times, up 22% from 2011. The CIA denied 60% of requests, up from 49% in 2011. From the Associated Press: The AP examined more than 5,600 data elements measuring the administration’s performance on government transparency since Obama’s election. ... When the government withheld or censored records, it cited exceptions built into the law to avoid turning over materials more than 479,000 times, a roughly 22 percent increase over the previous year. .. In a year of intense public interest over deadly U.S. drones, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, terror threats and more, the government cited national security to withhold information at least 5,223 times — a jump over 4,243 such cases in 2011 and 3,805 cases in Obama’s first year in office. The secretive CIA last year became even more secretive: Nearly 60 percent of 3,586 requests for files were withheld or censored for that reason last year, compared with 49 percent a year earlier. "

    I far fear what our federal government is doing to us in America,with its clear (and politically selective abuse of power and oppression by intrusive and potentially dangerous agencies like the HHS, EPA, IRS, and NSA, than what Leah Vukmir has to hide from her visit with ALEC.

    This is not a politically partisan issue; when our media cannot see the forest for the trees, or WON'T, we all are in deep doo-doo!

     
  • leonid58 posted at 12:34 pm on Fri, Sep 20, 2013.

    leonid58 Posts: 151

    Does any of this surprise me? NO! I hope i see some responces from all sides - Repulican and Democrat ! People should say " NO" to this practice....there is no room for arogance in a State office
    that " We The People" placed there....remember that without us voters, these people have no job ! We must tell them that this ISN'T acceptable...we ALL have a right to know if there is ANY misconduct by any serving State official that we voted into office !!! If they aren't doing the job we asked them to do, and aren't serving with INTEGRITY, they should be fired for misconduct - the same way ALL of us are treated at our own jobs . Good job on this very important Editorial !

     

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