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Elected officials should commit to transparency in 2019

EDITORIAL

The Advocate-Messenger

We have begun a new year and newly elected faces are joining older ones in our state and local governments. Our hope for 2019 is, regardless of a politician’s political priorities, party allegiance or diplomatic style, they all commit to two things: transparency; and doing what’s right, even when it’s unpopular.

That might be a tall order at a time like this. But it’s what we need desperately. New and old politicians alike need to put honesty and a commitment to open government at No. 1 on their agendas. Whatever goals they have set, whatever promises they’ve made for 2019 or 2020 or beyond, should all be achieved in a thoroughly transparent manner, or else not achieved at all.

Too often, we have seen elected officials treating open meetings like a hassle. Occasionally, we might even hear them complain out loud about how much of a pain it is to follow open meetings or open records laws. This attitude is dead wrong.

It’s only a pain to be transparent if you’d rather keep something quiet. It’s only a problem for constituents to know what you’re up to if you intend to deceive them.

As Abraham Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, the essential nugget at the heart of American democracy is “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” That’s why we the people elect our leaders: so that we are the ones running our own government. That we are ruling ourselves is the foundation of our country.

When elected officials decide they want to make a decision privately or quietly, they are eroding that foundation. They are taking the power loaned to them by the voters for their own.

We are in no way suggesting our elected leaders should only ever do what is popular. Taken by itself, the proposal to always be transparent could sound like an endorsement of mob rule — that politicians should do whatever the public consensus dictates, regardless of how informed or enlightened the public is on any topic. Such a view ignores elected leaders’ equal duty to do what’s right.

Our elected leaders should always be transparent, and they should always try to make informed decisions that will have the best outcomes for the future. That means if they understand a difficult problem better than the general population and know that an unpopular decision is nonetheless the right one, they should still make the right decision. And they should do it in a fully transparent manner, even if it means taking a political hit or losing the next election. We the people demand nothing less.