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March 10, 2019     Sidney Herald
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March 10, 2019
 

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6A SUNDAY, MARCH 10,2019 Editorial SIDNEY HERALD Public should BY LEE IAINVILLE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA The students I teach at the University of *Mon- tana often show up with a powerful assumption: If there is some piece of information out there, Google can find it. It’s an understandable belief for 19-yearolds who have grown up in a world where ubiquitous con- nection to the Internet and easy access to vast reams of webpages is expected. But for all those Wiki- pedia pages and Wayback Machines, there are countless documents that you, as a Montanan, have a constitutional right to see and you won’t find them no matter how many pages of search results you click on. That information is sitting in your county courthouse or the state agency in Helena. It is being dis- cussed at the city council or at the local school board meeting. And that is sort of the point of Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week runs ’The Montanans who gathered to write our state constitution in T972 knew and believed in this idea, incorporating two rights into the new document - the public’s right to know and its right to participate.’ lee Bainville University of Montana from March 10-16 this year and is put together by the American Society of News Editors and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Its goal is pretty straight- forward: highlight and promote transparency in government. But transparency itself is sort of a strange word. The Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously wrote, “Sun- light is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” The idea that the best way to keep the government repre- senting all of us was for all of us to be able to see its workings, to contrib- ute to its operation. The Montanans who gathered to write our state constitution in 1972 knew and believed in this idea, incorporating two rights into the new document the public’s right to know and its right to participate. Donald Foster, a Lew» istown Independent who .Served», as a delegate to the state’s canstitutional convention, stressed that these two rights were to serve the public, saying during the delibera- tions, “[T]he citizens of the state will expect to participate in agency decisions pribr to the time the agency makes up its mind It is also a e f rmation hotlin commitment at the level of fundamental law to seek structures, rules and procedures that maximize the access of citizens to the decision- making institutions of state government.” For that participa- tion to count, the public needs to know about the government’s work and the issues at stake. For nearly 50 years, Montana has stressed public participation and the transparency that makes that possible. But these rights are fragile and in need in constant attention and defense. One misinformed county clerk or nervous school board member or one agency demanding money to hire a lawyer to review the document a member of the public requested could make r those rights and the idea of transparent govern- ment mere words on a four-decades-old paper. I am a member of the Montana Freedom of Information Hotline, a service that helps members of the public and journalists navigate the state’s laws and gray zones of public access, and we have seen some things in the past year that are both encourag- ing and worrying. On the encouraging side, we have had more and more individu- als — not journalists or lawyers, just Montanans trying to access informa~ tion contact us for help. We are happy to try and aid their efforts to ensure the system Del- egate Foster envisioned continues here. But we have also seen troubling developments that may make access to records a luxury only the wealthy can afford. Mon— tana’s Supreme Court is currently considering a case about lawyer’s fees in a public records case. This all sounds pretty wonky, but think of it this way: If you go to get a public document and the government thinks you should not have it and then you take them to court and a judge says the state was wrong, should you have to pay for all that work your ’ lawyer did to correct a government mistake? If the answer is “yes” or “maybe,” I worry that most of us out here in Montana will just throw up Our hands and give up because the idea of hir- ing a lawyer seems pretty intimidating. These issues often seem pretty distant from our day-to-day lives as we desperately try to hang on until spring, but mak- ing sure Montanans can access information from their government and be able to participate in the work of government is as important now as it was when Mr. Foster argued for it nearly 50 years ago. But for this to continue to be the Montana way, we must all stay vigilant. That way, we will con- tinue to live in a world of sunshine and, maybe one day, some warmer temperatures. 0 lee Banville is a protessor of journalism at the University oi Montana in Missoula. He can be reached at lee.banville@umon- tana.edu or at (406) 243-2577. For years news organizations have relied upon an organization called the Montana Freedom of Infor- mation Hotline to provide legal advice and assistance . when confronted with closed or improperly adver- tised megtings or a sealed documents; The service also is available to individual citizens lltlltlr ttlllll Va %' \\ When does an Executive Order usurp the Constitutional powers of Congress? Certainly when it directs distribution of funds for a purpose that has not been ap- proved by congress. Recently the House passed a measure that would revoke Presi- dent Trumps Executive Order appropriating money to build a wall on the Mexican border. The United States Constitution gives Congress, and only Congress, the power to appropriate and spend American dollars; not the Judicia- ry, not the Executive. What Presi- dent Trump is doing is essentially challenging Congress to give up -— or at least share — the power to disburse federal funds. The Republicans in Congress seem intent on letting it happen, maybe “just this once”. But they’ll do it the next time, and the time after that, and all the times after that. It’s politically understand- able why the Democrats oppose Trump’s move to fund the Wall (fence, moat, hedgerow, or what- ever it is decided to be). Would they have been opposed if a Demo- cratic President funded anything by Executive order? Probably not, but there would still be some principled Demo- cratic Senators and Members of Congress who would oppose it on Constitutional grounds, just as there are today principled Republicans who will vote for the Resolution to revoke the Execu- tive Order. Four of them are on the record as supporting it; Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, and most recently and importantly, Rand Paul of Ken- tucky, who is a true believer in the Constitution. ' It is not easy for a senator to vote against a President of their own party. It is not easy to vote against the wishes of the Majority . a r r r 2 Leader. It comes with an under- standing that there will be political repercussions against the offend— er by both the pub- lic and fellow Party members. It takes courage, moral courage, and that is becoming more Jim Emo" and more scarce in politicians. A story I have always remem- bered is of Senator Bob Kerrey’s vote in 1990 against a Constitu- Montana Democrat ' tional amendment to bar desecra- tion of the American Flag. Just a year before, the Supreme Court had ruled in Texas -v Johnson that flag desecration was a form of speech and therefore protected by the First Amendment. Conserva- tive Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority Before he became a senator, Bob Kerrey was the governor of Nebraska and before that he was a Navy Seal who had put his life in danger to protect members of his unit. For that he got a Congressional Medal of Honor and an artificial leg to replace the one he lost sav- ing his crew. Whether or not you think he was right or wrong in his vote, he had his reasons. Disgusted as he was about the idea of someone burning the Stars and Stripes, in Vietnam he was not only fighting for the Flag, but for the Constitution and the right of Americans to speak their mind, no matter how odious or vile their words were. . Second was a matter of personal morality that enabled him to follow the dictates of his beliefs. He felt that if he did the popular thing and voted for the amend- ment the easy vote which would involve no political repercussions ~ it would only make it easier for him to make the easy vote courage ’I admire anyone of any party with the political courage to make the unpopular vote on any issue whether or not I like or dislike it.’ Jim Elliott Columnist the next time, and the time after that, and all the times after that. So, he stood by the courage of his convictions, and, by the way, was re-elected to the Senate. What I see in the Republican Senate caucus is many people voicing grave misgivings about the Executive branch taking over the power of the purse, but they will wind up voting for something that will go against the Constitu- tion and diminish their power. They know this. It will not affect their votes and it will help them get re-elected and getting re-elect- ed is the main thing. Sometimes this is called “selling ou ”. ‘ I admire anyone of any party with the political courage to make the unpopular vote on any issue whether or not I like or dislike it. It is not easy, and I speak from experience, but it is easier than thinking of yourself as selling out, which at least four Republiu can Senators will not have to do. Jim Elliott served l6 years in the Montana legislature as a state representative and state senator and four years as chairman of the Montana Democratic Party. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek. Montana Wewpoint ap- pears in weekly apers across Montana and online at missou acurrent.com. What is really important in America? Every day we face life. of dollars What is really impor— that they tant? took from Social Security? We 1 us. Who pay into Social Sec rity will suffer all of our working ves. from the When we reach our six- wasteful ties we anticipate collect- actions of ing the benefits promised our gov- to us. Some will collect l-OVe ernment? income at 62 while oth- God, Peop|e You and I. 'ers will not collect it un- Health? til 66.2 or later. The full r Your retirement age should be Di. Glenn M0ll9ll9 mortality returned to 65. Millions doesn’t of Americans will never collect a penny of Social Security. Imagine paying into Social Security most of your life but dying early and never collect— ing a cent. This happens to millions of Ameri- cans. , Medicare? We pay into Medicare most of our lives but will it be there for us when we need examinations and pro- cedures? Or will the gov- ernment make it harder for us to receive quality health care? Social Se- curity is already telling us we will receive less benefits than we were promised because there isn’t enough money to pay us. Whose fault is this? The government has squandered trillions become much of a real— ity until you hit about 50. At 50 you know you are a half century old! The body begins to react to how we have treated it or to problems that we may have inherited from past generations. Colon polyps start showing up, the thyroid starts act- ing up, blood pressure, heart, diabetes and much more becomes a daily concern. Listen to your body. Go see your doctor and don’t be passive when your doctor tells you about health issues that you should address. Stay active. Focus on more vegetables, fruit, baked or grilled chicken and fish and cut out des- serts. Sounds bad but my 97-year-old friend says Sahara literalh she focuses on vegetables and being active and she is still doing great. Money? Americans are working today longer than ever it seems. Many senior adults are work- ing into their 805 to keep food on the table or pay the rent. If you think you may be working into your seventies, consider preparing yourself for a job that you can physi- cally and mentally do late in life. Underground coal mining may not be for you when you are 75. However, working out of your home two days ' a week as a plumber or carpenter might be enjoyable. A friend of mine downsized his insurance agency but still takes care of a few clients a few mornings a week from his home. Find something that you letters IiCy ’Your mortality doesn’t become much i of a reality until you hit about 50.’ Glenn Mollette Columnist enjoy doing. Longevity? Life is short. We are just pass- ing through this world.“ Life is a gift. All in all, our mbst valued posses- sions are being at peace with our souls and our Creator, spending time with our family and friends and guarding our health. The Sidney Herald welcomes letters to the editor. Whether political, a probler in the city or neighborhood, or to pat someone on the back, let us lrnow what's on your mind. All letters must include the writer's signature,'address and daytime telephone number. We do not ublish anonymous letters: letters are subLect to editing lor spelling, clarity or ength. Be sure at your facts. It is impossi le lor the newspaper to verily information in every letter. We reserve the right to select which letters are published. One letter per month unless in response to another letter. A The Herald will notpublish letters critical of individuals or businesses unless such letters deal wit letters submitted to the Sidney Herald may or electronic lorms. issues involving taxpayers lunds. e published or distributed in prin who believe they, too, are being kept in the dark. Write to: You can reach the Hotline through its website, Letters to the Editor Eattng‘ , or by calling the Meloy S E N G E N D ' Sidney Harold W mm a - .' ‘- 310 2nd Ave. N.E. Tax deductible donations to thEiietune may be REGION SINCE ‘993 Sidney, MT 59270 made through the website. \ You can also read more about the Hotline at https:// wwwfacebook.com/montanafoi/ . Kelly Miller, Publisher~ . ‘ Bill Vander Weele, Editor , WWW-SldneyhenlldJom “mac wwrus- erwiw.-g*Mmm*‘Q