Editorial page editor Kate Riley explains why The Seattle Times is running a front-page editorial urging Gov. Jay Inslee to veto a bill intended to deny public access to lawmakers’ records.
For the first time in modern memory, an editorial is printed on the front page of The Seattle Times.
Today’s editorial calls for Gov. Jay Inslee to veto a bill passed by the Legislature that slams the door to government records a judge said the public should have access to. Further, the lawmakers rushed the bill through in 48 hours last week with no meaningful public hearing or floor debate.
The process of skirting protocol was so audacious that The Times’ leadership, including Publisher Frank Blethen, President Alan Fisco, Executive Editor Don Shelton and myself, decided to skirt a time-honored protocol of our own. Though editorials usually are found only on the Opinion page, the Legislature’s acts were so antithetical to government transparency and the issue is of such importance to our democracy, today’s editorial calling on citizens to take action appears on Page 1.
One front-page editorial in 1908 was published by Blethen’s great-great-grandfather, Alden J. Blethen, calling on wealthy Seattle business people to support the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition.Others were published including in the 1930s.
And The Times is not alone. Joining us Tuesday with front-page editorials on SB 6617 are The News Tribune (Tacoma), The Spokesman-Review (Spokane), The Olympian, The Columbian (Vancouver), Bellingham Herald, The Tri-City Herald, The Yakima Herald-Republic and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Frank Blethen said the circumstances merited Tuesday’s front page:
“In the 37 years I have served as a publisher in our state, I have never seen as blatant or dangerous an attack on your right to know than the inexplicable attempt of bipartisan legislative leadership in Olympia to essentially keep you from knowing what they are doing,” said Blethen.
Here’s what happened. Within 48 hours of Senate Bill 6617’s introduction, the majority of the state Legislature voted to exempt itself from the state Public Records Act only one month after a judge ruled that, after decades of flouting the law, the Legislature was indeed subject to the act.
Even more disturbing was the process that was used to ram through the bill — no committee process, no meaningful public hearing and no debate on the Senate or House floors. Yes, and lawmakers defending their vote called it a transparency bill. The public will have more access than it did, more than one lawmaker said. Well, a little more than nothing is not very much.
Senate Majority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, and Senate Republican leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, are among the named defendants in the lawsuit brought by 10 news media organizations including The Associated Press and The Times. Interesting that Nelson and Schoesler also are the co-sponsors of the bill. Apparently, the idea is the bill would make the lawsuit moot.
Not so fast. This isn’t over. And you, dear readers, can help.
The best hope for the public’s right to know is Gov. Jay Inslee, an established open-government champion. He told reporters last week that legislators “could succeed in their duties while being fully transparent like the rest of state government.”
In that news conference, however, he suggested an overwhelming majority vote on the bill would make any veto futile. But that’s not necessarily the case, especially considering the strong public backlash against the Legislature’s shenanigans in comments on articles, letters to the editor and in social media.
Former state House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler, a Democrat who represented most of the Olympic Peninsula for 18 years until 2010, is beside herself. She was the author of the bill that created the state’s Sunshine Committee to review the state’s public records exemption laws.
“I cannot imagine the Legislature passed a bill exempting itself from public disclosure,” said Kessler, who now is a member of the committee. “They are supposed to represent the people.”
Today’s editorial calls for Gov. Inslee to follow his commitment to open government and stand with the people, rather than the Legislature.
He can see right through lawmakers’ arguments that sensitive information about constituents and drafts of bills in process would not remain private under the Public Records Act. Many of those things would not be subject to disclosure as some lawmakers say. Those arguments belie a lack of actual study of this issue or suggest that they believe whatever their leadership tells them to.
Join us in calling for the governor to veto the ill-conceived Senate Bill 6617.
And then, call or write your representatives and urge them not to override the governor’s veto. On this page is the contact information for lawmakers in King and Snohomish counties who voted for this anti-transparency bill.
Help protect access to the business of the people.
As Kessler said, “What are they afraid of? What are they hiding?”
Here’s your chance to ask them.
Information in this article, originally published Feb. 27, 2018, was corrected March 1, 2018. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that this was the first front-page editorial since 1908. Others were published including in the 1930s.