Time and again I have witnessed the voters elect a new office holder based on the candidate’s platform of reform and innovation. The new office holder starts out with the best intentions, excited and ready to implement new ideas, unfortunately only to devolve into a self-centered career politician whose primary motivation becomes the extension of their own political life.
So how do you know if your elected official has stopped striving for reform?
In last week’s article, I described three simple criteria that I use as an indicator of my elected official’s likely transition: 1) he has attempted to increase your tax burden; 2) he opposes transparency initiatives; or 3) he has supported a personal benefit to himself or his own office’s budget.
Last week I explained my logic for using tax increase attempts as an indicator of co-option. This week I will detail my reasoning for the use of the transparency indicator.
A true public servant has nothing to hide. He believes everything he does with taxpayer dollars should be open to the public.
When a politician votes or takes action against transparency, he is saying he does not want taxpayers to have true oversight. He feels it is okay for him to forcibly take away your property and liberty through taxation, while inhibiting you from overseeing his spending of your money.
The co-opted official hates transparency because he is now a member of the elite political class but wants to hold on to the public persona of being a reformer. He instinctively knows that transparency risks exposing his true modus operandi to the public.
I made these observations firsthand in 2012 as I sponsored the legislation to apply Oklahoma’s transparency laws to the State Legislature.
The Legislature makes transparency laws that apply to other government entities, but exempts itself from these same laws.
In the upside-down world of the Capitol, openness and transparency seem alien and scary—a fact that became very clear to me after the Speaker of the House agreed to support the proposal. His support turned what had been a “fringe transparency proposal” into a credible bill that had a likelihood of passage.
This generated massive, overwhelming and intense opposition.
I can still recall being asked to appear before the Republican House Caucus to explain the bill. Ironically, this meeting was held behind closed doors and away from public purview. It allowed the legislators to say how they really felt about a bill they could never vote against in public but which they clearly detested and hated.
It was especially fascinating to witness the intense opposition from those legislators who until that time had regularly been strong allies in the fight for transparency—when it applied to the other branches of government.
It became clear that while they were supportive of transparency for others, they were opposed to transparency for themselves.
Until that time, legislators had generally seemed to acknowledge the importance of the transparency movement and initiatives, but as I look back, it should have been clear to me that the culture of the institution was not transparency-minded if that transparency were applied to the Legislature.
Since that time, the language of transparency has mostly disappeared from the lexicon of most legislators. They honestly believe the current system of governance to be acceptable and do not see a need for more transparency or reform.
Those who have read these articles over the course of the past few months—particularly those describing last year’s budget process—will know that this is not the case.
The current system is completely indefensible.
As a voter, you should never hesitate to ask your legislator if he believes the current system of governance to be acceptable. Ask him for his specific ideas for reform and ask if he is willing to support and propose the application of Oklahoma’s public meeting and open records laws to the Legislature.
His response will tell you all you need to know.