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Wednesday, October 22, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Waihee let the sun shine in; Abercrombie should follow suit

By Richard Borreca

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The easy way to look at Hawaii's governors is in the rear view mirror.

There is a political Doppler effect with our governors: Coming at you, they look a lot different than when they are going away.

If you take 16 years as about the right frame of reference to look at former governors, then Gov. John Waihee is ready. Few may remember one of his more important accomplishments, the state Uniform Information Practices Act.

Before Waihee, citizens, including those in the news media, were left to the vagaries of whatever bureaucrat was in charge of the records you wanted.

"Can't have them, we need them, besides they are government records, not public documents," they would say.

Now the law is, as its name suggests, uniform. It applies the same rules to all information, with the important caveat that if there was a question, government will err on the side of public disclosure.

In a political act akin to calling in an artillery strike on his own position, Waihee actually pushed through the law that created this by setting up a commission to study the issue and then appointing a no-nonsense, clear-eyed administrator to implement the new law.

"It wasn't an easy law to live with, but it was necessary," Waihee said.

Today filing a complaint or simply having a chat with the state's Office of Information Practices is usually enough to pry the records from a reluctant bureaucrat's paws.

Waihee often ruefully jokes that a grateful news media immediately used the new law to investigate him.

"I used to think the media could get practically anything it wanted, but that might have been part of my persecution complex," Waihee joked at the time.

Now our new governor, Neil Abercrombie, will face new challenges as forces rally to keep government information private.

On a national level, the uproar surrounding WikiLeaks releasing 250,000 secret diplomatic cables caused the federal government to re-examine its information-sharing practices. It is expected that government information will become harder to get.

On a local level, the public worker unions are expected to ask for new laws to shut off access to state and county employee salary information. That request comes after a new online news service made public the names and salaries of all state and county workers.

At the same time, more government information is found in electronic records and database queries. The law needs to be changed to make access to those government databases more accessible.

Gov.-elect Abercrombie should start thinking now of ways to more perfectly open government. Legacies should be about bold openings, not retreats.

------

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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