We’ve created a government by the people and for the politicians. Sad but true.
Nothing has made that more clear than the attempts earlier this year by certain state GOP-types to keep under wraps their communications with staff members, and even each other, as they work toward legislative agreements. That certainly isn’t being done for the people. It’s being done for the handful of state officials who want to cut deals behind closed doors and not have to explain how they arrived at these deals.
These officials don’t want the public to know what favors got swapped to reach a compromise. They don’t want the public to hear their self-serving motivations for supporting or opposing a certain piece of legislation. They don’t want the public to see the ugly side of politics — or of themselves, in particular.
Well, it’s too late. We’ve already gotten a good glimpse, even without having to peer through the keyhole.
The fact that the Supreme Court had to actually order the release this spring of documents used by state officials in school funding meetings that were closed off to the public should tell you there’s something awry here. The public has a right to know what’s being said — and done — when government leaders get together to debate an issue. And if Gov. Bob Taft, Sen. Richard Finan and House Speaker Larry Householder had nothing to hide in these school funding discussions, why would they try to withhold the records? Makes you wonder.
These guys are public officials. As such, they aren’t — and shouldn’t be — afforded the same level of privacy as the rest of us. Their actions should be subject to near-constant monitoring to ensure they are acting in the best interests of their constituents. I’m not talking about 24-hour, Big Brother-type surveillance, but let’s face it: These politicians signed up for life in a fishbowl when they ran for elected office. Now it’s time for them to live with that choice.
Trying to stifle public input by locking citizens out of meetings and suppressing documents used to reach important legislative decisions are perfect examples of how politicians are abusing their power. Senate Republicans even went as far as to bury in the state budget bill for 2002 an obscure amendment protecting legislators’ communications with staff members from court subpoenas.
Although Taft thought well enough to veto that line item, it still prompts the question: What are they trying to hide? They may insist it’s nothing, but to borrow a phrase from Shakespeare, Me thinks thou dost protest too much. Elected officials are supposed to be public servants. It’s time they start acting like it and stop saying and doing things for the advancement of their own political careers rather than for the benefit of the public good.
We see these shenanigans for what they are: Legislators running scared — scared of exposing their true agendas, scared of allowing the public to scrutinize their data, scared of looking foolish or childish for the way they behave during heated debates.
Whatever the reason, these fears will certainly pale in comparison to what they’ll face come election time. It’s called voter backlash. And it’s what politicians ought to fear most. Nancy Byron ([email protected]) is editor of SBN Magazine in Columbus.