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Transparency vital to informing public

Filed by KOSU News in Feature.
November 30, 2012

My commentary from Thursday, on why it’s critical for you to get closer to the truth, and how that didn’t happen in reports about Oklahoma’s failure to get Race to the Top funds.

Case number two: All over the country, states with Republican governors made the decision to reject their option to run their own health care exchange, instead opting to allow the federal government to establish its own exchange. Oklahoma joined its neighbors Texas, Kansas, and Missouri, as well as far off states like Maine and New Hampshire.

Why you should care: This is not the place for a debate about who should run a health care exchange.

However, it’s notable that  in 2011, Governor Fallin turned down $54,000,000 in federal grants to establish its own exchange. At a press conference announcing that decision, she called a state run exchange “good public policy”. Quoted in The Oklahoman, she said “We believe we can develop a better solution.”.

Why did no one question the governor’s drastic change in position?  As a journalist, such a statement cries out for further questioning. Does Governor Fallin now believe a state run exchange is bad public policy? Is a federal exchange better public policy? Why did she think in April 2011 the state could develop a better solution, but in November 2012, decided against doing just that?

At this point, you might be thinking, ‘Well Ben, you’re a member of the media too, you could do this.’ KOSU did just this. We checked her statements against past positions, and brought that story to our listeners. We even played a clip from 2011, when she said “We don’t want the federal government coming in in the year 2013 as mandated by federal law and implementing a federal system upon the state of Oklahoma, so we’re going to work towards our end goal.” It shouldn’t be the case that a two person newsroom can find that, when the state’s two largest newspapers or TV stations can’t, don’t, or refuse to.

The follow up:  On Saturday, an article in The Oklahoman revealed Governor Fallin will not release emails on the health care exchange which might shed light on the change in Oklahoma’s direction. Citing “executive privilege”, her office said they are exempt from the state’s Open Records Act. Joey Senat, a professor at Oklahoma State University, points out there is no explicit exemption in state law for “executive privilege”. The Oklahoman, and other media organizations, have expressed disgust with the Governor’s decision.

Right now, the Governor’s office is betting commercial media won’t sue. For public media, frankly, we don’t have the resources or staffing to sue. The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, and media organizations everywhere, are dealing with fewer resources. Fewer journalists often mean the ones left are forced to simply provide a play by play, fill in some details, and file the story. It can feel like high speed washing machine for a journalist, running from one press conference to another.

This leaves us, and you, a few options to get the real truth. We could raise money for a lawyer, or as an engaged citizen, you can call Governor Fallin’s office. That’s the power of democracy.

Currently, the public is left out of the process. We don’t know what the governor considered except what she announced.  A productive democracy demands transparency.

One Response to “Transparency vital to informing public”

  1. Gerran C. says:

    This is an amazing article. I believe that transparency in government is not just vital to the prosperity of our state, but to democracy as a whole. When a government hides information from its people, it does so to retain power over them.

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