For Immediate Release: Monday, August 20, 2012
Better UTAH Speaks Against Legislature’s Redistricting Secrecy
Maryann Martindale, Executive Director of Alliance for a Better UTAH, testified this morning before the Legislature Records Committee that withholding redistricting documents violates the spirit and intent of Utah’s constitution.
After the committee voted 3-1 against releasing the documents (unless a $15,000 fee is paid), Martindale had this to say:
“We are extremely disappointed that the Utah Legislature has chosen to continue to breed a tone of secrecy. Hiding behind statute, while placing enormous financial roadblocks in front of transparency is not the spirit of democracy.”
In her testimony before the committee, Ms. Martindale said, “The right of the press and the right of the public to be able to scrutinize the actions of those we elect to office is a cornerstone of our democracy. We would strongly urge leadership to remember the lessons of HB477, and the cost of keeping the public in the dark.”
Full text of Maryann Martindale’s testimony:
It is difficult to imagine how a conclusion was reached that information and related to the redistricting process and behind-the-scenes communications are not in the public interest.
I personally attended eight or nine of the statewide public hearings as well as every single Committee hearing and special session meeting. Without exception, those meetings were filled to capacity and in many instances, overflowing, with an extremely diverse cross-section of concerned citizens, all with a vested interest in the outcome of the redistricting process.
According to the Legislature’s own website:
“The 2011 Redistricting Committee scheduled 17 public hearings throughout the state – more than ever before. Please attend, listen, learn, and participate.” “We’d like to hear from you.”
In your own words, you asked the people to participate, to get engaged, to create maps, and to voice their opinions.
Now, as groups and individuals have asked for copies of records associated with the redistricting process, you are saying that the information isn’t in the interest of the public.
It is becoming more difficult to see what the legislature might consider to be in the public interest. Our own group, the Alliance for a Better UTAH, was recently turned down on a request relating to our legislators’ involvement with the American Legislative Exchange Council on the grounds, again, that this information was not in the public interest.
Despite the repeal of HB477, a skeptic might think it lives on in spirit in the halls of the Utah legislature. While there is room for abuse in the quest for information; transparency and disclosure should be the presumption, not the exception. Turning down the Democrats was inappropriate but it is hard to see the rejection of the same request from the press as anything other than a justification of the original misguided GRAMA decision.
Government and the people are not two distinct entities. Government IS the people, formed BY the people and, in a representative democracy, is elected to do the business OF the people. By definition, the process by which the citizens ultimately elect their government; and redistricting – and all that it entails – is the business of the people and should be conducted in the full light of day.
The right of the press and the right of the public to be able to scrutinize the actions of those we elect to office is a cornerstone of our democracy. We would strongly urge leadership to remember the lessons of HB477, and the cost of keeping the public in the dark.
Alliance for a Better Utah | www.betterutah.org