State Rep. Matt Shea's weekend comments calling the press "dirty, godless, hateful people" show he is not the right person to try to reach common ground with the media regarding access to legislative records.
Someone who calls the press “dirty, godless, hateful people” is not someone you would expect to be tasked with helping bridge a divide between lawmakers and the news media.
Yet that is the role currently assigned to state Rep. Matt Shea, the House Republican caucus chair who disparaged media members using those alarming terms at a gun-rights rally over the weekend.
Shea, R-Spokane Valley, is one of eight lawmakers appointed to a task force designed to resolve an impasse over which records the Legislature must disclose to the public.
But Shea’s weekend comments, which also suggested members of the news media were guilty of “defending tyranny,” demonstrate that he is not the right person to try to reach common ground with the press on this critical issue.
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House Republican leaders should choose another member of their caucus to serve on the public-records task force, which is expected to hold its first meeting Sept. 5.
Legislators agreed to form the task force after Gov. Jay Inslee vetoed their February attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s Public Records Act. That speedy vote proved deeply unpopular among Washington citizens, prompting more than 20,000 people to email and call Inslee’s office to ask that he block the legislation.
Had it become law, Senate Bill 6617 would have allowed state lawmakers to conceal more records than nearly every government official in the state. It also would have closed off all of lawmakers’ past records, a clear attempt to evade a January trial-court ruling that found legislators had been illegally withholding public documents.
That case was brought by a coalition of 10 news organizations, including The Associated Press and The Seattle Times. The Legislature is now appealing the ruling.
Even before Shea’s ugly comments, the makeup of the Legislature’s public-records task force hardly inspired confidence. While 21 of the Legislature’s 147 members voted against Senate Bill 6617, not a single one of those legislators was chosen to be part of the work group.
Removing Shea from the task force offers an opportunity to change that.
House Republican leaders must show that they plan to begin the public-records discussion with an open mind and respect for everyone at the table.
That means choosing someone other than Shea to represent them on the task force — ideally, someone who opposed the Legislature’s misguided secrecy effort in the first place.