State Rep. Jerome “Dee” Richard, No Party-Thibodeaux, is sponsoring a public records bill that, by the assessment of state Sen. Rick Gallot, a Ruston Democrat, has little chance of becoming law.
We hope that Gallot is wrong, although experience tells us that Gallot’s skepticism about the cause of greater transparency in state government is warranted. Even so, we’d like Richard’s bill, also sponsored by Gallot, to be the basis of some constructive discussion about government transparency — and not merely an exercise in futility.
Richard’s and Gallot’s bill would remove from state law a broad “deliberative process” exemption that allows a governor to shield many state government documents from public view. The bill, should it become law, would still allow internal communications between the governor, his chief of staff and his executive counsel to remain shielded from public view for up to 10 years. The bill would continue to give the governor the ability to have candid written communications with his top aides with some guarantee of privacy. However, the legislation would open to public view many other records, particularly those related to state budget discussions, acknowledging the simple principle that in a democracy, citizens should have a clear idea of how their government is being run.
In other words, the Richard-Gallot bill strikes a reasonable compromise between executive privilege and the public’s right to know.
We’d urge the governor to consider this compromise. Jindal has opposed similar legislation in the past — an odd position, we believe, for a governor who entered office professing to advance government transparency.
Should the governor wish to position himself as a champion of accountable government — a goal that any ambitious politician should embrace — then he should think about Richard’s and Gallot’s bill before dismissing it outright.
Ultimately, of course, the cause of government transparency should be about more than Jindal’s political calculus. Open government is good, regardless of who is governor.
In working with lawmakers on new legislation to broaden state government transparency, Jindal could leave a useful legacy of citizen empowerment that would resonate beyond his time in office. He can also demonstrate the power of political compromise, which is something that many people here and across America seem to want right now.