As disgust grows over our state Legislature’s overwhelming vote to exclude itself from the state Public Records Act, we should make something clear:
This is not a battle only between the media and politicians. This is a fight for transparency that affects all Washington citizens.
Newspaper editorial boards may be helping to lead the charge, but that’s because a big part of our job is holding elected officials accountable. We do this not for ourselves, but rather for the public good — to protect open government and guard against elected officials who try to circumvent that.
When we found out state legislators had crafted their own public record law in the dark, and then fast-tracked it to a vote in the House and Senate without the benefit of public hearings, we were outraged. Newspapers everywhere — including this one — were compelled to call attention to this breach of public trust.
And we did it in a big way.
On Tuesday, at least 12 newspapers across the state coordinated to publish front page editorials on the Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 6617.
We urged Gov. Jay Inslee to veto this horrible legislation even though it was approved with a veto-proof majority.
It was a history-making moment for journalism in Washington state.
But the media is not the only group that has pushed the governor to take a stand against the self-serving bill developed in secret. There are other groups and individuals who have joined the fray.
Notably, the League of Women Voters of Washington, a group devoted to promoting responsible government, has blasted state lawmakers for the way in which they pushed this legislation through.
On its website, the League noted that Senate Bill 6617 was never referred to committee and there was “no real opportunity for public input,” and that legislative leaders announced there would be no amendments.
“This exceptional process would be of concern on any bill. When it happens on a bill that deals with the legislature’s transparency, or lack thereof, it is especially troubling,” the League wrote. “Whatever the legitimate reasons for this bill, those reasons will forever be overshadowed by the fact that this was crafted behind closed doors without any benefit of sunshine.”
Rob McKenna, former Washington attorney general turned political watchdog, writes a blog. In referring to the public records vote, he said, “It’s hard to put a happy gloss on that kind of bipartisanship. It’s the kind of bipartisanship that says, ‘We don’t really care what the public thinks, we’re passing this anyway.’ ”
McKenna is spot on.
In addition, the Washington Coalition for Open Government, a staunch advocate for transparency, weighed in on the issue.
WCOG President Toby Nixon, a former state legislator and current Kirkland city council member, said, “The passage of ESB 617 is incontrovertible evidence of the utter contempt legislators of both parties have for public participation in the legislative process,” said Nixon.
“The idea that a major bill with such huge policy implications is introduced and then on the governor’s desk for signature within 48 hours is just ridiculous. Voters should never forget this abuse.”
As of this writing, we are still waiting for the governor’s veto. We encourage him, once more, to block this ludicrous legislation and do it for all Washington citizens.