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Editorial: Is Herbert for secrecy or accountability?

Published March 7, 2011 3:20 pm

Is he for secrecy or accountability?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The last line of defense against a brazen assault on the people of Utah and their right to knowledgeably participate in their own government now lies in the office of Gov. Gary Herbert.

If the Republican governor is to retain any claim to being the governor of all the people, not the pawn of special interests and panderer to the right wing of his party, he must veto House Bill 477.

And if he does not use all the political pull at his disposal to persuade lawmakers to sustain that veto, the governor will never again be able to say that he is a champion of transparency in government.

He will be revealed as a political hack who is more concerned about preserving his own viability within the radical fringes that control the Republican nominating process in this state than he is about doing the people's business in the light of day.

In barely 48 hours, the GOP majority in the Utah Legislature announced, pretended to debate and passed a piece of legislation with the clear intent of gutting what was, for the past 20 years, a model law that assured the media and the people reasonable access to the public records that they own.

Legislative leaders bluntly admitted that their haste was intended to avoid public scrutiny and to dodge any rush of open-records requests that might come if people knew what they were up to.

HB477 would take Utah in exactly the wrong direction. No other state is even considering such action, which would only strengthen Utah's unwelcome reputation as a backwater state, governed by cronies and cliques.

Under the bogus cover of protecting the privacy of individuals who communicate with their representatives, HB477 would carve out exemptions in the Government Records Access and Management Act — GRAMA. Most of those exemptions are designed to cloak the Legislature's own doings. It would also allow state and local government agencies to charge inflated fees and impose unreasonable delays, designed to frustrate all but the most determined — and well-funded — seekers of the truth.

Herbert is known to be uncomfortable with this bill, but fears that a veto could help trigger a challenge from the right when he seeks a new term in 2012.

We urge the governor to rise above politics, to act as the statesman voters elected him to be, and to veto this breathtakingly arrogant assault on the people's right to know.