by Max Brantley
Most interesting. Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida has instituted a Project Sunburst. It gives the public (that means media, too) access to all e-mail to and from the governor and 11 staffers within 7 days.
This is wonderful. Kudos to Scott.
This kind of thing can sometimes bite back. See this article on testy e-mail exchanges between the governor's office and a New York Times reporter.
The Arkansas angle:
* The state Freedom of Information Act specifically exempts "working papers" of the governor.
* Though I've long believed working papers is a term of law and not meant as a blanket exemption for every single thing that passes through a governor's office, it has been construed as a total exemption. It will continue to be unless somebody tries a Hail Mary lawsuit and successfully challenges it.
* Of course business in progress should enjoy some protection. But the pressure brought to bear on a governor and reasoning from top aides in making key decisions are exactly the sorts of things the public should know to understand how government operates.
* The law should be changed.
* All governors are guilty of secrecy, but I don't think anyone was worse than Mike Huckabee, who took it to the extreme of destroying scrubbed hard drives to be sure nobody could find out about his internal business. He wouldn't even supply routine press services to certain people. (PS — A Huckabee staffer took possession of backups of material stored on gubernatorial computers. To date, people seeking that information have been unsuccessful. Might it someday be released at the Huckabee archives at OBU? I'm betting not in my lifetime.)
* Arkansas Republicans have lately been lauding Winthrop Rockfeller's endorsement of the FOI Act (passed by a virtually all-Democratic legislature, it should be added). Perhaps they'd like to emulate Gov. Scott in Florida and introduce legislation to open up gubernatorial working papers to public inspection — at least to require that papers and digital communications generated during a term of office be protected, preserved and open to inspection after a cooling-off period for history's sake. I don't expect Gov. Mike Beebe to be a hard-drive destroyer, but ....