When public documents become a political issue

Jean Maneke is a FOIA attorney and a sunshine blogger in Missouri. I’ve never met her, but reading her blog all this year, I believe she knows whereof she speaks.

As our readers know, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt is getting all kinds of grief because his office has fumbled the issue of what they do with their email. Blunt is a Republican, and much of this grief is coming from Democrats–who are making hay while the sun doesn’t shine.

Jean wonders whether there’s a downside to this, because it might lead the public to view open records advocacy as a political ploy.

I’m sure she is right to worry, even though the public-documents-as-political-ploy works both ways.

Are there Republicans in Missouri right now who believe with all their heart that the Dems are just using appealing-sounding rhetoric about sunshine and open government to score a few cheap political points off Blunt? I have no doubt.  Do those Republicans believe that if a Democrat occupied the governor’s office in Missouri, that that governor could delete email without a peep from the same Dems who are currently taking it out of Blunt’s hide?  Some of them do, sure.  Are there Dems in Colorado who think the exact same thing about the Republicans who are scoring points off Gov. Ritter? No doubt.

Does this lead to a public relations problem for sunshine activists, because of a background suspicion when the subject comes up that their interest in the issue is partisan and that they wouldn’t be pursuing openness so doggedly if their favorite pols were the ones in office?

Sure.

The only solution to these concerns is a long-term one–and it is for people who favor open government to be just as staunch in their advocacy when their party or favorite politicians are getting an unpleasant open records wake-up call.

Here’s an example of former Madison mayor Paul Soglin supporting 1st amendment rights for speakers he strongly disagrees with. This is the kind of principled position we need to see a lot of in open records advocacy.

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