McEntee: Fighting for the right to see state records again
The question wouldn't seem too hard to answer. Under Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, Maryann Martindale wants a list of all requests the state has provided for free because they would benefit the public or be in the public's interest.
It's a natural, given that the state has been awfully chintzy lately about granting fee waivers on documents pertaining to, say, political redistricting work that took place almost completely behind closed Republican caucus doors.
Martindale, executive director of the Alliance for a Better UTAH, last week asked for information on how much it cost to send lawmakers to conferences such as the Council of State Governments and the recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Salt Lake City.
She also asked for a fee waiver, arguing that the release would be in the interest of the public, which elects lawmakers and pays their salaries and travel costs. Nope, the state said, it is not in the public's interest.
So Martindale asked the obvious question what constitutes the public's interest? That's reasonable, especially in the context of the state's refusal to issue a fee waiver to the Utah Democratic Party and The Salt Lake Tribune for records relating to redistricting. The state could give at least a preliminary answer next week.
"We believe that these are the very kind of GRAMA requests that are in the public interest dealing with taxpayer money and directly impacting elections," she wrote. "Since the Legislature, we would like to know what their definition of public interest is."
Records aside, GOP lawmakers have made their own privacy a fixture. Unlike the Democrats, whose caucuses are nearly always open, they'll retire to closed caucus pretty much every time.
Earlier this month, they kept judicial nominee Su J. Chon and her family, Democrats, reporters and people who'd gathered in the gallery waiting for more than an hour while they fought it out private. (Chon was confirmed.)
Everyone knows Republicans hold a supermajority in state government, and indeed in the state, meaning that no one has much of a chance in fighting back against their influence.
But people like Martindale and Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis do, often and relentlessly. With an important election season about to be upon us, it's time every voter takes a close look at who's driving the armored bus of Utah and why we keep giving them the keys.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.