The solution to the systemic problem that has killed Representative Government is really quite simple: Each legislative body needs to change its rules to make it clear that each and every bill that a People’s Representative (legislator) wants heard, gets a fair hearing in committee with a recorded vote. Moreover, every bill that passes committee gets a fair hearing on the floor of the main body, also with a recorded vote.
The specific language will vary with the legislative body.
Ideally, this will first happen with a change in the rules each body chooses to govern itself. But since those rules can be easily changed, the Open Government rule needs also to take the force of law, either as a statute or as a constitutional amendment.
In Oklahoma, we have ample precedent that Open Government was to be the policy for legislation. None other than our first, most important and greatest Governor, Charles N. Haskell, largely crafted and guided the deliberations creating the Oklahoma Constitution. Here is what the “Father of Oklahoma” had to say about the open process used in the Constitutional Convention:
. . . the writing of that Constitution was the work of a model commission. Its rules welcomed every person who desired to lobby his ideas and secure the approval, if possible, of that Convention, but while it made all free to speak, it emphatically required them to speak in public hearings and not otherwise, and well do we remember the definite enforcement of that lobbying regulation. It said, in substance, “You may be heard in an open, public and candid manner, but secret lobbying, no, never” and the firm way in which Mr. Ledbetter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, construed and enforced these regulations guaranteed its complete success. (Emphasis added.)
Clearly, the principles of Open Government were the order of the day in crafting one of the nation’s finest constitutions. This quote is from Governor Haskell’s address celebrating 25 years of statehood. There is no doubt that he mentioned it because he was proud of the fact that the process of founding Oklahoma, and developing the backbone of its law, was entirely open, transparent and above-board.
Oklahoma’s 27th Governor Mary Fallin surely should support Open Government. We’ll soon find out if she is serious. Here is what she said in her inaugural address:
The most treasured words in our nation’s Constitution are the first three, “We the people.” For those of us who are elected to public office, we must never lose sight of the indisputable fact that we serve at the pleasure of the people and for the benefit of the people. Government is the ultimate people’s business. We are elected to solve problems, not create them – to bring common sense thinking to the process – to listen to the people, and we not only have a responsibility, but also an obligation to keep them informed. We report to the people, and Oklahomans shall and will hold us accountable, as indeed they should.
[We have] the opportunity to seriously examine how we conduct the people’s business. It is time to ask the probing questions, the “why” questions – why have we done it like this for years [like secret government?] and why can’t we consider a different approach – a new approach – a modern approach. And, yes, we must be courageous and willing to move forward each time we find a better way, a better solution for the benefit of the people of Oklahoma. We will undertake new methods and we will constantly strive to improve what we do and how we do it. And let there be no misunderstanding – we will act, because the status quo is unacceptable. (Emphasis added.)
Since this is our heritage and our example, shouldn’t we reasonably expect Governor Fallin, the other statewide elected officials, and the Oklahoma legislature to rise unanimously to support Open Government? If they don’t, then we must ask: “What do you have to hide?”