How Transparent Will Palin Be?

By Natalie Gewargis

Sep 16, 2008 12:49pm

GOLDEN, COLO. — "We’re going to make everything more open," Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said here yesterday, "and more accountable, and more attractive to those who want to serve."

Good government groups have told me that in general, when it comes to transparency issues, they’re very happy with both candidates on the top of the ticket. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., are both seen as "reformers" by these groups. Sure, there have been glitches here and there (Obama’s broken promises on public financing comes to mind) but in general they see both men as allies.

Enter Gov Palin.

She has a case to make that she’s a maverick.

She has a case to make that she’s a reformer.

But is she a transparency advocate?

“E-mails from the Palin administration are being withheld from the public and the governor is citing executive privilege," reported Alaska TV station KTUU last month. "With subject lines like ‘Fagan,’ ‘Andrew Halcro’ and even ‘Alaska Ear,’ it makes some wonder how those topics could possibly be policy related; especially since those same e-mails were copied to the governor’s husband…Officials say the private e-mails within the Palin administration won’t be released.”

“Palin routinely uses a private Yahoo e-mail account to conduct state business," the Anchorage Daily News reported a few days ago. "Others in the governor’s office sometimes use personal e-mail accounts too. The practice raises questions about backdoor secrecy in an administration that vowed during the 2006 campaign to be ‘open and transparent.’…

"Where you’ve got a governor apparently using a Yahoo account for state business, that’s kind of a complete inversion of what ought to be happening in terms of public records,’ said Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and a Missouri journalism associate professor. ‘E-mail that’s public business ought to be done on public accounts that can become public record,’ he said.”

Using a personal email account to conduct official business is what officials of the Bush administration — perhaps most notoriously Karl Rove — in an apparent attempt to circumvent any subpoenas.

Is following that model "transparent"?

In December 2006, newly-elected Gov. Palin and Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell, Department of Revenue Commissioner Patrick Galvin and acting Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Marty Rutherford met with three oil producers to discuss the new gas pipeline. The previous governor, Frank Murkowski, had negotiated a deal with BP, Conoco Phillips and Exxon Mobil, though the plan had never been ratified by the Legislature. Palin said her new administration would open up the process to other companies.

Wrote the Anchorage Daily News, "Palin promised her pipeline contract negotiations would be open and transparent — although the meetings starting today won’t be…"

"Interviews show that Ms. Palin runs an administration that puts a premium on loyalty and secrecy," reported the New York Times this month. "The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records.”

When Palin started as mayor in Wasilla in 1996, she was similarly criticized.

“She’s also been criticized by the local semiweekly newspaper for a new policy requiring department heads to get the mayor’s approval before talking to reporters," the Anchorage Daily News noted. "An editorial in The Frontiersman labeled it a ‘gag order.’ Palin said it’s a temporary rule to smooth the way until department heads have a better sense of the administration’s policies.”

The accumulation of all these actions would undermine how transparent and open Palin’s instincts are.

And I suppose it goes without saying that Palin was introduced to the public 18 days ago and has yet to hold a press conference.

- jpt

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