Here is hoping that Governor Elect Abbott will understand the big difference between being Attorney General and being Governor. As attorney general he used his legal knowledge, and qualifications to hide, obfuscate and in some cases flat out refused to allow disclosure of reasonable information to the public about the operation of their government, and the state.
The picture above is taken from last weeks Austin American Statesman front page. It doesn’t matter if I, or you, agree with his politics, what should be beyond question is his (mis)use of the law to hide what he’d done. In this instance, the Statesman had applied for a copy of an abortion lobbyist/litigation-consultant contract to work with the Attorney Generals’ own office during the HB2 bill process in 2013. The contract became a big deal during the five-day federal court trial over HB2.
Abbott’s office refused to release the document saying it was exempt. In a strange reversal, after early voting closed, the Open Records Division allowed its’ release. Abbott tried to claim the consultant was a distraction, and there we have the problem. When government agencies are ashamed of its’ actions they look to bury the news, or hide the truth. The government becomes the problem, not the truth.
Other decisions that Attorney General Abbott has taken in the recent past where transparency was sacrificed and secrecy, confidentiality, and security were used include:
- Fighting disclosure of information about the Texas Enterprise fund which he was charged with overseeing. Interestingly, only today has the UK Government sent a take-over squad into a London Borough for doing essentially the same thing with much smaller amount of money.[Evening Standard].
- Reversed a prior decision, allowing the State to keep secret Information about Pharmacy’s providing lethal injections for State Executions. As is often the case, this was done for security reason, without providing any supporting evidence the threat being credible.
- Then there is the curious case of the State Register of Dangerous Chemical storage. The State keeps the information and requires its’ disclosure. However, the individual Texan is not allowed access to the data, we must go around to their door, knock, wait and ask what they are storing and trust they’d tell us the truth. Assuming we know he they are in the first place, which of curse we don’t. Again, this was justified under using that hoary old chestnut, security. Which belies the fact that any decent terrorist group would likely have the information, and if not, have the technology to find out, where as the average Texan doesn’t.
- Abbott ruled to keep Governor Perrys’ travel records and expenses a secret, again for security reasons. Again the issue came up as one of oversight and expense, this time for the security detail on trips which some feel were not State business. While there is some justification to re-dact specific detail which could reveal the number and identity of people, places or organizations that protect the Governor, there is really no reason to not publish things that are already public record and the security cost associated with them.
- Not forgetting that Attorney General Abbott was fully engaged in the urgent VOTER ID law rushed through in the summer, mostly to a problem most recognize, does not exist(1)
If Governor-elect Abbott continues like State Attorney General Abbott, Texas will be seen increasingly like a 3rd world banana Republic, than a first world economy and US super state. In the modern connected world, successful governments and organizations thrive on openness and transparency. The people don’t need to be told everything all the time, they do though have both the right and have the confidence to know their government and politicians are acting lawfully.
Governor-elect Abbott do you want to spend your time being a distraction, or are you actually going to lead?
- (1)Except those in the Texas Republican bubble who don’t see out-of-state mail-in voting as at all open to fraud, and who seemed to have overlooked some 100,000 plus legal immigrants who could vote under these regulations.
- Prior posts about Attorney General and Governor-elect Abbott
- Texas Attorney General Public Information Handbook(2014, PDF)
- Donate to the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, here. [I did last night]