Open government is good government
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
By Gov. Charlie Crist
The early leaders of our country held widely divergent views on many topics, but their writings reflect a common appreciation of the importance of the right to know.
These leaders recognized that, in order for the new democracy to survive, public access was essential. As James Madison wrote: “[A] people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”
Sunshine Week celebrates the people’s right to access the records and proceedings of their government and continue a centuries-old tradition of public access in America. Some might say that the need to safeguard the public’s right to be informed about their government is no longer as important today as it was to Madison and his contemporaries.
I would argue that the mandate of government agencies to be stewards of the public trust has not changed. In fact, the standard may be higher. The agencies are larger, their duties are more complex, and a vast number of lobbyists are now part of the process.
In the end, government is still responsible to the people. Public access laws give the people the means to hold government accountable for its actions. This fundamental reality continues to be as significant today as it was in the early years of our nation.
More than 100 years ago, President Lincoln recognized that the people’s will is the guiding force in a true democracy. Strong open government laws help to guarantee that President Lincoln’s extraordinary vision of a government of the people, by the people and for the people will stand the test of time.
Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) is Florida’s 44th governor.