Commentary

Common political ground

Nino Barbieri/Wikimedia Commons

In celebration of near unanimity among American politicians of all stripes, let us today note how promises of “open government” proclaimed by political candidates right and left die once they are elected.

This sometimes seems to be one of the few things nearly all politicians have left in common aside from factual distortions.

One could almost be left wondering if there’s an official timetable dictating that support for “open government” is required to terminate X-days after election, be the “X” measured in days, weeks or months.

I don’t know. I’ve never been elected. So I lack access to the secret codebook.

All that is evident to an outside observer is that politicians regularly bow to the holiness of open government, and then nearly all turn their backs on it once elected.

Have you ever heard of an honest candidate running on a platform stating “I think the electorate is comprised of a bunch of dumbasses, and when I’m elected I’m going to see to it that we don’t tell them a damn thing? All their knowledge of affairs does is muddy up the important business of running government.”

OK, so maybe Donald Trump. Could that be what attracted some of his supporters:

“Hey, our guy lies a lot, but he doesn’t pitch that same, old trite lie about wanting open government.”

You know, that little fib so many tell about supporting the doctrine that Wikimedia defines as ensuring “that citizens have the right to access the documents and proceedings of the government to allow for effective public oversight.” 

The Anchorage Assembly bunker

The latest demonstration of this behavior involves a story the Anchorage Daily News headlined this way:

“Anchorage Assembly votes to deny emails requested by a detractor”

Kind of makes you wonder if the newspaper thinks the vote would have been different if a “supporter” had asked for the same emails with plans to make them widely public. Does anyone think anything would change if a supporter asked tomorrow instead of a detractor?

Well, anything other than the definition of supporter.

This is clearly one of those Catch-22 situations where if you ask for release of public information, you automatically enter the detractor category. And thus the e-mails can never be released because only detractors want to see them.

Which was a good defense for political leaders living in the old and now defunct Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)? In a democracy, whose asking should be wholly irrelevant. Public information is public information.

Period.

And by all indications, this request in Anchorage is for public information despite the dancing members of the  Anchorage Assembly have engaged in to make it appear otherwise. Consider the show put on by Assembly Vice Chair Chris Constant:

“Constant argued that attorney-client and work product privileges mean it’s difficult to prove that nothing nefarious exists within the redacted records.

”’That’s why it’s such a good whipping post for folks in these right-wing blogs, because they could say anything. They could say it’s anything and then it can’t be controverted because that privilege exists,’ Constant said.”

Note to Assemblyman Constant: The attorney-client privilege only applies to attorneys. Clients are under no obligation to keep quiet about anything.

If there’s nothing nefarious going on and you want to make liars of those right-wing bloggers suggesting there is, there’s nothing to stop you from releasing your emails to prove that you, at least, are not involved in any nefarious dealings.

This might make some of your fellow assembly members mad, of course. And given that the Assembly at times now seems to be operating more like a little cabal than an elected government, they might even vote to sanction you.

But wouldn’t that be something of a badge of honor?

A true open-government warrior

On the next election cycle, you could actually run as a politician who stood up for “the public’s right to know” even though it outraged your friendly fellow pols. How many political candidates can claim that distinction?

I can’t think of any.

Yeah, I know, this might require a little bravery and bravery is rare, especially in politics in this country. It used to be slightly more common in journalism, but it is becoming rare there now, too.

The ADN was once a big supporter of the public’s right to know. In the past, it regularly went to court when politicians did what the assembly is doing now. The last time was in 2014, when the newspaper was temporarily named the Alaska Dispatch News, and then Gov. Sean Parnell was withholding Alaska National Guard records for “privacy reasons.”

The issue at that time involved reports of sexual assaults, sexual and general harassment, fraud, favoritism and abuse of power within the Guard, and the Parnell administration said it was trying to protect the victims of any and all of that.

This was a way better argument for concealing records than the risk of the public getting a look at the behind-the-scenes “work product” of politicians scheming to write laws. And the ADN went to court anyway because it believed the public’s right to know outweighed any privacy concerns.

That the suit also helped gubernatorial candidate Bill Walker, a good buddy of then ADN publisher Alice Rogoff, in his bid to unseat Parnell probably didn’t hurt either, but it was journalists pushing Rogoff more than Rogoff pushing journalists that led to the filing of the lawsuit.

It resulted in the release of most of the requested records as has been the result in most public records lawsuits filed in the state. The state has a pretty good law designed to protect open government, and Alaska judges have been good in seeing to it that the law is applied.

The problem is and has been with all the open-government candidates for office who become closed-government officials once elected.

Parnell was and is a Republican. Constant is a Democrat. But on the open government issue, they’ve proven birds of a feather.

There is a rule that seems to apply to all politicians here: Open government is good when someone else is in power, and bad once you’re elected.

Walker was a big supporter of open government before he got elected, too. And after?

Well, suffice to say his bid for re-election blew up when he refused to say anything about what kind of sexual shenanigans led him to asked former and late Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott to resign from his post. In the moment of “Me Too,” this was a little too much for Alaska voters to tolerate, and Walker, seeing the mess he’d created for himself, decided at the last minute to withdraw from the election to avoid certain defeat.

It’s sad to see pols act this way.

Clear the air

So I have an offer to make to Assemblyman Constant:

Send me your e-mails, and I’ll parse them to see if there’s anything there that it would hurt the public to know, and release what it’s OK for them to find out. I have no axe to grind here. I’m neither a righty nor a lefty.

I once worked for former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, a Democrat. I once offered political advice to a state Senate Majority controlled by Republicans. I probably have more friends who are Democrats than who are Republicans, but I make a point of not using political affiliations to judge any of them.

I can honestly say, as well, that I’ve never met a politician I didn’t like. Being likable people is, after all, their stock in trade.

That said, I’ve also never met a politician I’d trust in a pinch for the simple reason that they are politicians. They live or die by garnering enough votes to stay in office, and thus they are always assessing the political winds and making the sorts of adjustments in the sails any sailor would make to keep the boat on course to its next port.

And for a politician, the next port is always named Re-election.

It’s hard for me to hold this against any of them. They are almost always of the belief that it’s hard to change the course of government unless you are part of the government. They might even be right about that.

None of which should free any of them from the responsibility of trying to do as much of the public’s business as possible in public, not as little.

And in this vein, I offer a hand of support to Assemblyman Constant.

Obviously, he can’t do anything to help his fellow assembly members defend themselves against right-wing blogs,  left-wing blogs, mainstream media, or average citizens guessing at what is in secret emails. But he can certainly clear himself of the idea there is something nefarious in his emails – if, of course, there is nothing nefarious.

Just forward them all over to craigmedred@gmail.com, and we can put this all to rest.

The only dog I have in this hunt is the public’s right to know. I have no political affiliation. I don’t even vote because I don’t think journalists should.

The evidence from various psychological studies pretty well documents how picking a party or a candidate can mess up one’s objectivity even when he or she doesn’t want it to, and it’s hard enough trying to be objective without adding this problem to the mix, especially in these times.

I’ll be happy to read through your emails and decide if there’s anything in there it would be dangerous for the public to know, redact it and release the rest. And if there’s some “work product” in there that demonstrates how government bakes the cake, wouldn’t it be good for the public to actually know how this works?

Cooking shows being the rage these days, this might even lead some people to pay more attention to local government, and that’s never a bad thing, is it?

 

 

 

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24 replies »

  1. Try something super freaky. Type in antifa.com. Its not spam I promise. It shocked me . Really strange.

  2. Common political ground. I support the freedom convoys in Canada. I think they are doing a great job . They fight for right and liberty and to keep their countries honor clean. They are our brothers in deed . They are sacrificing for all of us .

    • Amen! Look how the hacks in the media and that spinless “Soy Boy” Justin are smearing those patriotic, peaceful truckers. Remember when Justin said he supported the riots and violent actions, murders amd rapes of ANTIFA and BLM? These disgusting “leaders” should have visits to their homes like their lefty pals do. Normally homes should be off limits but not for those dirtballs. They should run out of town.

  3. About the only thing more guaranteed than an open government political candidate turning closed government representative is the media who supports them going silent on the issue when their chosen candidate wins elected office.

    Thanks for stay demonstrably neutral, or nonbiased, or should I say open and forthright?

  4. Well, Craig, I, too, once worked for Senator Gravel, well actually for the AFL-CIO assigned to his ’80 Campaign and I worked for Republican Majorities in both the House and Senate. I don’t however claim any Democrat friends, though I know a few. Maybe you and I could jointly review the materials the Assembly is hiding.

    I’ve never been elected either, but I’ve been as far up the org chart as you can get without being confirmed or elected, so I kinda’ know the lay of the land in the thin air zone. In my experience, you’re mostly laying it on the wrong people when you blame elected officials for trying to withhold information. The people who advise them, the lawyers and the career ‘crats are more responsible for trying to resist PRA requests than the elected or even appointed officials. The impulse goes deep into the government culture. Once I was in supervisory/managerial positions, I was constantly fighting with the operating departments over PRA issues; they wanted to hide everything. The reality is that if a union or other powerful interest group is asking for something under PRA authority, they already have it, they’re just looking for cover for whomever leaked it or stole it, so you give it up. I’ve written a lot of memos for no purpose other than leaving them on a copier in the Capitol.

    I learned to never underestimate the capacity of lefties to delude themselves, but ass uming that the Ass embly has somebody advising them with some sense, they have to know the privilege assertions will not survive the courts. They might survive the Superior Ct. if they can find a judge to do a “great service” in the hope of an appointment to the SC, but they won’t likely survive the SC. The AKSC seemingly has never met a Republican that it liked, but they would have to reverse a whole bunch of really sweetheart decisions they gave the ADN, Kenai Papers, and lefty interest groups over the years when they wanted something from Republican governments. I’ve worked as a policy level manager under both FOIA and the Alaska PRA, and I hated them both; they represent the febrile fantasies of lefty “good government” types who’ve never had a responsible job. That said, if you’re a skillful crat you can make it take forever and cost a Helluva lot of money to get anything out of a government

    If somebody on the Ass embly side knows what they’re doing, they can make the requestor(s) challenge the privilege assertions line by line and that will take a lot of time, a lot of money, and by the time you get it done, nobody will even know what it was about. That’s the whole idea.

    • Art: It is hard to impossible to disagree with your assertion that members of the bureaucracy are in this up to their eyeballs. They appear to harbor even stronger desires to operate in secret than do the pols, which only makes it more important the latter should try to set a better example.

      It would all be funny if it was funny. I’m still trying to find out from the National Park Service what exactly happened in the death of a packrafter on the Nizina River in 2018. Officialdom says it can’t say, citing the good, old “ongoing investigation” claim. It’s an even better cop-out than “work product.”

      And I told agree with your assertion that the idea here is to delay, delay, delay in the hopes by the time the information is provided it will be so out of date no one will care. I went through the same thing with the U.S. Forest Service with a death on Sixmile Creek and gave up after a year of filing FOIA requests ever higher up the chain of command with continuing denials of information for various reasons some of which were truly entertaining.

      Serious reform is needed, but I doubt that we’ll ever see it.

      • I helped some interested people draft amendments to the Open Meetings Act. Ironically, a lot of it involved putting stuff in it that then State Rep or Senator Ted Stevens had in his original bill that he couldn’t get passed, so it got stripped out and we have the current version of the law. Interestingly the parts of Stevens’ bill that got the most objection were the parts that imposed civil and criminal penalties on violators. Says a lot.

        You wouldn’t believe what Leg Legal did to my draft. Now it ain’t like I’m an amateur at bill drafting or government writing. They simply gutted it to take the teeth out of it that we were trying to put in. Then you get to have those sessions that make legislators tremble in which you tell them that Leg Legal works for them and you don’t ask them what you can do. Anyway, the bill never even got a hearing, which was the intended result.

  5. The ADN was signaling to it’s Leftist readers that the Detractor isn’t legit.

    Several weeks ago NPR’s Nina Totenberg got over her skis on a SCOTUS story. Eventually NPR claimed that they don’t do advocacy journalism. Still makes me chuckle. I have no doubt that NPR actually believes that they don’t do advocacy journalism! Cognitive dissonance is so cruel.

  6. You are a righty Craig. It is telling when you backed Proud Boys and Neo Nazis over ANTIFA in Portland , Oregon. My dad was ANTIFA during WW2. I will never side with the fascists , nazis , or white supremacists’ as you did.

    • I never saw craig back neo nazis. You have confused him with someone else. Hopefully your dad was involved with a more honorable antifa than is seen today. A destructive, harmful, dishonest organization. Shouldn’t be classified as left wing as most democrats do not support their assinine activity. Hurting innocents and destroying at will . Yuck .

      • DPR,
        Not sure what stick is up phils softer side,but he’s referring to conscripts and volunteers in WW2.From a great many countries-who served ANTIFA.
        art (with a small a),is doing what art does because his daddy didnt give him enough hugs.Nobody really cares about his previous position,because it didnt really matter that much as the great granite ball of history grinds along.But he got his Tier 1,thats what counts.
        And he is a good digester of historical liurature I’ll give him that.
        Started the read on Portland,look forward to finishing it.
        I remember it when it was about 260-290k.
        Fun town,always liked it better than Seattle.
        Muni’s love growth,means more borrowing,more revenue.More revenue means more borrowing.But the downside is,well more growth.
        Very vicious cycle.

      • Dave mc , thanks for insights. Separately don’t you think Arts efforts should be spoken of at least with a medicum of respect as the internal workings of and the people who are its backbone have a harder job than cleaning toilets? Without the people who keep the gears turning we would just have incompetence of politicians. So regardless of party and the need to be recognized they should be greatly appreciated. In many ways the man who shovels shit out of stable is as important as the person who accepts the money from the dudes who stable their horses there.. every worker is important regardless of what recognition they received while doing their thankless labors that often are lost in the sauce. I find the inner workings of any machine absolutely fascinating. I would say art was a part of Alaskas machine regardless its efficiency. His job is not as glorious as the man who plows snow from our roads so he deserves even more of our respect. Imo . I for one feel really lucky to learn from him without having to have spent time in his job .

    • I never backed either side in that shit show, Phil. They’re birds of a feather. If you think the anarchists who took over ANTIFA in Portland are anything like the anti-fascists of WW2, you haven’t been paying attention, don’t know the history or both.

      But I guess the modern-day Portland ANTIFA could be good for business for a realtor in a community on the outskirts of Portland. I know people who’ve left that city because of what Forbes describes as the “continued violence and vandalism…combined with high housing costs, homelessness and poor community leadership….”

      ANTIFA, white supremacists, neoNazis and plain, old-fashioned rabble-rousers have all played a part in this. https://www.forbes.com/sites/billconerly/2021/01/28/death-of-a-city-the-portland-story/?sh=2f7c239a74ad

    • Did your father have a PAF draft exemption for his services to the communists, or is this just some fantasy identity you’re trying to impress somebody with?

    • Poor Phil, doesn’t know what a fascist is. Little hint Phil, ANTIFA ARE ACTUAL FASCISTS. Another little hint Phil, Nazi stands for “Socialists”. Guess which party suports “Socialist/Communists” Phil? Ah Phil, AOC, Bernie, and the rest of that Democrat woke mob..
      Sorta hard to let facts get in the way of your word scramble.
      Oh, one last hint Phil about those “white supremacist” Proud Boys, well, they were founded by a black Cuban. Now run along, you have some studying to do.

      • Nazis were socialist in name only. They were fascists. Adding a “/” between words doesn’t make them the same thing, though it implies you think they are the same thing. Which communists do they support? Or do they merely support some social programs like some European nations, such as national healthcare and education?

      • DWilson, kind of like saying your name isn’t really “Wilson” because it has “Wilson in it..Haha, come on DW, of course the Nazi’s were socialists. Look up the 1936 Price and Wage Controls. Sure, some even say “it was capitalist” since companies were “private”, but they were also run by the Nazi government. Sorta like “private” companies in America that are pressured by Democrats to do their bidding that is UnConstitutional. So yes, Nazis were socialist. Just like Democrats are all the above – Marxists, Socialists, and Communists. Please don’t tell me you fell for that big college campus lie about “today’s Republicans are actually yesterday’s Democrats” nonsense?

      • Bryan: How about we dial it back a notch and recognize that Communist or Fascist, the labels don’t really matter here. What matters is that they were all totalitarians. It’s the latter, not social programs or economics, that kill democracy. It dies at the moment everyone is required to think the same thoughts.

        And sadly, there are people on both the right and the left in this country who think they are so smart everyone should think just like them. You sometimes sound like one of them when you try to go to absolutist. Try not to go too absolutist.

      • DWilson, hmm, which communists do the Demkcrats support? Considering half the Obama Admin was self admitted Communists. You can find their names yourself..Besides, just check the members of Congress with the Juan lining their pockets. As for Some European countries they are Capitalists with liberal social programs. They aren’t “socialists”.

      • DWilson: You do know that Nazi is a contraction for National Socialist, right? Their official name was National Socialist German Worker’s Party. They hated the communists because they were playing on the same turf. But thanks for playing. Cheers –

      • OK Criag,..agree. just a little pushback to those who seem to be absolute in their thinking with the “my way or the highway (Cancel Culture if you will).
        I’ll refrain in the future..

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