As election day nears and candidates do their best to distract drivers with the hundreds of campaign signs placed at key intersections around town, Iíd like to encourage voters and candidates not to lose sight of something that is infinitely important and affects all of us: government transparency.
It seems apathy has snowballed in recent years. A few years ago, Americans were outraged to learn that our own government was spying on us, in ways deemed illegal by many courts. There have been lawsuits filed, judgments appealed and the NSA is still an occasional talking point on political talk shows. But by and large, most Americans just donít care ó or, at least, we donít care enough to do much about it.
Itís largely ironic that at the same time our government is invading our privacy more and more, that same government is becoming less and less transparent.
Even here in Wyoming we are moving in the wrong direction. With the recent Aland v. Mead judgment ó siding with even more government secrecy ó state officials can now keep private things that may be embarrassing. Should we sit back and hope and pray that our elected officials arenít easily embarrassed? The judgment has the potential to conceal countless public documents, much to our stateís detriment.
Maybe we ought to help shift the focus for our local candidates.
Priorities vary from candidate to candidate, voter to voter. Candidates try to appeal to the masses, sometimes by taking on problems that plague the community. Others will tout how well things have been going, and say theyíll continue down the proven path.
In small communities like ours, candidates will often focus on just one or two things. At last weekís candidate forum for county government positions, topics ranged from the slow economy and whether to spend taxpayer dollars to help local businesses, to increasing efficiency and protecting the Constitution against federal overreach.
The NSA spying on American citizens ó including right here in Wyoming ó certainly qualifies as federal overreach. But itís not just the federal government that needs to be more transparent. If you ask me, every single government agency can do better and should continually strive to do so.
Transparency should be at the forefront of every voterís mind. Sure, we need a more efficient government. And yes, taxpayer dollars should be spent wisely. But how do we even know if those things are happening if we donít have an open government?
If we want to slowly give away our freedoms, letís keep asking our candidates the same run of the mill questions about budgets and spending and business development. But if we really want to know whatís going on, we need to take back our freedom of information.
Hold public officials accountable. Cities, counties, school districts, courts, police and sheriff departments ó just to name a few ó are legally obligated to be open. Iím not going to tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you what to vote for. Vote for transparency. Vote for candidates who are committed to let the public access its own records easily. Vote for candidates who are opposed to holding illegal meetings. Vote for humble candidates who desire to serve, people who realize that itís not up to them which records or meetings are open to the public ó†those decisions are already made and written into state and federal law.
History has shown that some things just have to get worse before they get better. Letís not let transparency be categorized like that. After all, itís not the elected officialsí government. Itís ours. Letís prove it by voting for transparency in the upcoming primary and again in November.