Tahlequah Daily Press

March 10, 2014

Fallin’s refusal to release papers a slap at transparency


TAHLEQUAH — For someone who touted more government transparency as part of her party’s platform, Gov. Mary Fallin sure is keeping a lot of secrets close to her vest.

Fallin has been sued for her refusal to release 31 documents related to the Affordable Care Act. The governor now says she’ll release the records when she leaves office, but the caveat is, she has yet to say whether she’ll delay that release for a certain period of time.

The state’s rather vague Open Records Act has given Fallin all the wiggle room she needs. According to her communications director, the documents have to be archived and then “eventually” opened to the public. If she wins re-election this year, the papers won’t go public until at least January 2019. If she loses, she could turn over records to the Oklahoma Archives and Records Management Divisions as early as January 2015.

Then again, she could keep them almost indefinitely – kind of like the Kennedy family may or may not have done with certain records pertaining to JFK.

If Fallin drags her feet any longer, she’ll be setting a precedent of secrecy in Oklahoma. Administrative Archivist Jan Davis knows of no such limitations placed on records of previous governors, Republican or Democrat. They’ve always made those documents public as soon as they’re processed.

Fallin might also need to take a second look at the Open Records Act – assuming she’s already given it a first cursory glance. She claimed “executive privilege” for withholding the papers – a right not granted to her by law.  Her odd response caught the attention of The Lost Ogle, a satirical website based in Oklahoma City, and that media entity, through the ACLU, filed the lawsuit in Oklahoma County District Court.

The documents could be interesting, because they apparently relate to Fallin’s decision not to create a state health care exchange or expand the Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. Statewide polls have shown that Oklahomans, while not necessarily fans of ACA, wanted lawmakers to consider a a state-level alternative.

Fallin ought to realize that while her motives for keeping these papers secret might be legitimate, she’s not going to convince anyone except her staunchest supporters. Opacity has no place in government unless national security is involved, and that’s clearly not the case here. Without evidence to the contrary, the rest of us will have to conclude she has something to hide, and that should be embarrassing for a politician in the party of “less government.”

There’s some irony in the timing, since a bill that will purportedly strengthen the state’s Open Meeting Act is now wending its way through the Legislature. As State Rep. Mike Brown said concerning that particular bill, if you don’t want people to know what you’re doing, you have no business in public service.

We agree.