Two seemingly unrelated news stories appeared in my laptop emails on Monday, one noteworthy for nothing more than its abject absurdity and the other even more so for the ominous threat it poses to the ability to hold elected officials accountable.
And while LouisianaVoice rarely delves into national politics because, well, truth be told, it’s admittedly way beyond my pay grade (and I was always taught to “write what you know”), both these stories have potential trickle down repercussions if any legislator is dumb enough to take his (or her) cue from the Man with the Golden Hair.
In the first story, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway issued a dire warning, heavy with legal overtones, to “be careful” BE CAREFUL what we say about her boss. Her remarks, of course, were directed to retiring Senate Minority Leader, Nevada Democrat Harry Reid.
Reid last week said the election of Trump “has emboldened the forces of hate and bigotry in America” And that, in the minds of Conway—and presumably Trump—borders on libel (and, of course, “crooked Hillary” is simply campaign rhetoric).
It’s no secret that Trump, on the one hand, champions tort reform whereby corporations can be better protected from lawsuits over such trivial oversights as exploding batteries, toxic dumping, sexual harassment, etc. On the other hand, however, Trump has made it equally well know that he favors more liberal libel laws which would make it easier for public officials to sue.
Well, Trumper, you can’t have it both ways. The landmark case Sullivan v. New York Times makes it quite clear there must be a “reckless disregard for the truth” for a public official to recover damages.
Were that not the case, there might well have never been a Watergate scandal, the White House plumbers, Bebe Rebozo Iran-Contra revelations, Sen. John Edwards, the all-too-cozy relationship between Wall Street and The Clintons, Bushes, and even Obama or any number of other investigative pieces about public corruption. And to quote an old Baton Rouge State-Times editor responding to a reader who was irate over the treatment the paper was according Richard Nixon: “Exactly what is it about Watergate you would rather not have known?”
And out in Arizona, we have a bill pending BILL PENDING before the state legislature that appears to be right out of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) playbook and if it is, you can look for clones of this bill to pop up across the landscape, including, in all likelihood, Louisiana.
State Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills (wouldn’t you just know it would be a Republican who wants to put the kibosh on the public’s right to know?) has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult to obtain public records if public officials feel the requests are “unduly burdensome or harassing.”
That’s pretty open-ended and a decided advantage to any public servant who feels my request might be “unduly burdensome.” Wouldn’t Kristy Nichols have loved that? No, wait. It wouldn’t have mattered with her; she simply ignored my requests until she was damned good and ready to comply—if she even decided to comply. Okay, Mike Edmonson. He’d feast on a law like that.
Lest you think such a bill would never pass, consider this: this is Kavanagh’s second attempt at passing the bill and last it passed the Senate by a 22-7 vote, but lost in the House by a 40-19 vote.
LouisianaVoice will be watching closely to see if any similar such legislation is introduced in the 2017 session. If it is, then we will know without a doubt that this is an ALEC-sponsored bill.
ALEC, you may recall, meets at retreats, mini-conventions and conferences to draft “model bills” for members to introduce in their respective legislatures back home.
More recently, it has launched a sister organization, American City Council Exchange (ACCE) that has the same goals as ALEC, only on a municipal as opposed to state level. One of ACCE’s objectives, outlined in an Indianapolis conference last July, is to have its members become familiar with public records laws and to “be on the lookout for frivolous or abusive requests.”
Sen. Kavanagh couldn’t have said it better himself.
But what he conveniently overlooks is this: In any company, be it a mom and pop hardware or one of those mega box stores, management has the unchallenged right to know what its employees are doing when representing the company, be it processing orders, reducing errors, or one-on-one contact with the customer.
The President, Congress, 50 governors, Kavanagh, his fellow legislators and other elected officials throughout the land are chosen by the people. They in turn hire subordinates to carry out the day-to-day functions of government. So Kavanagh and every other elected or appointed public official in this country works for…the people.
And we, the people, have a right to examine the work they’re doing on our behalf.