Radio Address - Sen. Hobbins on Government Transparency

Posted: March 19, 2011 | Senator Hobbins, Weekly Radio Address

Weekly Radio Address – Sen. Hobbins – March 19th, 2011

Good Morning and thank you for tuning in. This is Senate Democratic Leader, Barry Hobbins from Saco.

Today marks the culmination of Sunshine Week—a national endeavor celebrating openness and transparency in government.

Sunshine Week was established to spark a discussion about the importance of open government and public access to government documents and meetings.

Last week, the Maine Legislature passed a joint resolution recognizing and confirming the basic principles of an open and accessible government in a free society.

Governor LePage campaigned on and has since promised while in office that he will make his administration one of the most transparent in Maine’s history. This is a promise we all got behind. Democrats have long believed that people should know who, how, where, and what is being governed.

In fact, nearly forty years ago, Maine was the first Legislature in the nation to adopt the Freedom of Access Act.

And, now more than ever, Maine people value transparency and access to its government and elected officials.

We can no longer remain silent about the Governor not keeping his promise. I do not say this lightly, as I’ve refrained from criticizing the Governor and his Administration. Instead, I have observed with patience and respect as the Governor learns his way around Augusta.

That being said, it seems that the Governor has deviated from his transparency in government pledge that he made in his inaugural address on January 5th.

Case in point, a week ago, the Governor announced the formation of a Business Advisory Council to look at how Maine can strengthen its economy and bring in good paying jobs. I wholeheartedly endorse this effort and have told the Governor I am interested in helping advance the Council’s mission.

However, in the Executive Order, the Governor added language exempting the Council from Maine’s Right to Know Law. In the past, many administrations have formed councils and advisory committees—but never have the people of Maine been told it’s none of their business. The end result of this lack of “government sunshine” is that Maine people will be kept in the dark.

Furthermore, the Governor has announced that this is not the only council he will be forming—he intends to form two to three other councils to advise him on issues such as education and the environment.

The members of these councils are the very people who will have the Governor’s ear, helping craft policy and priorities for the next four years. Don’t we, the people of Maine, have the right to know WHO is on the Council and WHAT decisions are being made?

As a founding member and former chair of Maine’s Right to Know Committee, I feel a responsibility, a stewardship, for transparency in Maine government. So, last week, in response to the Executive Order, I wrote a letter to the Governor asking him to re-evaluate his decision exempting the Advisory Council from the Freedom of Access Act. To date, I have not received a response from him or anyone in his administration.

I will remain dogged in my efforts to allow the people of Maine access to the state’s business. Transparency is essential to an open society.

A cloud of suspicion forms over elected officials and governments where the truth is shrouded in anything but openness.

I can only speak about that which I see—and if we’re not allowed to see who and what is behind the curtain, suspicion and doubt will brew.

Sunshine Week and the Freedom of Access Act were borne out of this—this need to know, the need to hold elected officials accountable, and the need for public officials to look squarely in the face of those they serve and report back.

I want to work with Governor LePage—on transparency, on budgeting, and how to move this state forward. But I want to do it with transparency and openness.

Governor, I hope you will join me.

This is Senate Democratic Leader Barry Hobbins and I thank you for listening.