MHPC, ACLU joined forces to spearhead effort for more open government
The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, a broad group of individuals and organizations—including the “Tom and Jerry of Maine politics”—presented its 2012 Maine Sunshine Award to State Sen. Richard W. Rosen in recognition of his steadfast support of open government.
“Senator Rosen did an outstanding job in this legislative biennium of sponsoring and shepherding an important piece of right-to-know legislation, LD 1465,” said Suzanne Goucher, president and CEO of the Maine Association of Broadcasters and president of the Coalition. “Among other provisions, this bill establishes that every unit of government in Maine must designate a Public Access Officer to assist the public in accessing government documents and records.”
At a ceremony Thursday at the State House, Rosen accepted the award and acknowledged the many people who worked over five years to get LD 1465 passed.
“I want to especially acknowledge an unlikely pair for driving this legislation forward: The Maine Heritage Policy Center and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine—or the Tom and Jerry of Maine politics,” Rosen said. “The media called their partnership a relationship between ‘strange bedfellows’, and it’s obvious why. I can recall examples when these organizations were on opposite sides of competing budget rallies, but would then work side by side to fine-tune bill language and testify together at public hearings.”
Chris Cinquemani, former director of communications at MHPC, spearheaded the legislative effort, along with Sam Adolphsen, director of the Center for Open Government at MHPC, the ACLU of Maine and the coalition.
“Those strange bedfellows, this coalition and the bipartisan cosponsors represent government at its finest and prove that transparency is not an ideological or partisan issue,” Rosen said.
In addition to sponsoring LD 1465, Senator Rosen also worked to protect funding in the state budget that, for the first time, allows the hiring of a Public Access Ombudsman in the Attorney General’s Office. While this position was created in 2007, this is the first year it has been funded.
“Senator Rosen has been a solid supporter of open government initiatives during his service in the legislature,” said Mal Leary, principal of Capitol News Service and vice president of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition. “He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. As a reporter covering the Appropriations Committee, I saw him time and time again remind the committee that they had to do their work in public, no matter how painful the issue.”
“Receiving this Sunshine Award is a great honor, and I am proud to be part of the movement to protect and expand Mainers’ Right to Know,” said Rosen. “In this building I’m usually associated with numbers, dollars and budgets. For me, letting off steam means adding color to an Excel spreadsheet,” he said to laughter.
“Still, I’m happy with that reputation, and with the work l’ve done with my colleagues to protect Maine taxpayers, even if it means I’m hardly the life of the party—or the caucus. But I can’t think of a better way to end my legislative service than by receiving this honor and celebrating open government with all of you.”
Transparency is critical in a free society, Rosen said. “Citizens have a right to know what their government is up to, how it spends tax dollars and how it reaches decisions that impact their families. That’s why I sponsored legislation in 2010 to strengthen Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. LD 1465 represents a major improvement to our right to know.”
LD 1465 mandates funding for a transparency ombudsman, advance notices for public meetings and trained public access officers in every government agency in the state.
“Like most officeholders, I wish I could take all the credit,” Rosen said. “But credit for these improvements belongs to a coalition of transparency leaders and the 30 bipartisan cosponsors who believe in open, accountable government.”
Rosen said that coalition members, including the Maine Association of Broadcasters, the Maine Press Association and the Maine Society of Professional Journalists, were critical to the success of LD 1465. “So was the lead cosponsor, Senator Dawn Hill, whose years of dedication to government transparency has been inspiring,” he said.
Rosen also acknowledged the diligent review and long hours of hard work by the members of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee and the members of The Maine Right to Know Advisory Committee.
“Everyone in this room—and in this building—is part of the governing process,” Rosen said. “And we all have important responsibilities. We have a responsibility to protect Mainers’ Right to Know and a responsibility to expand that right.”
On behalf of Maine’s citizens and taxpayers, Rosen thanked the coalition for its efforts to protect and expand Mainers’ Right to Know. “Open government will never be a final destination because there will always be work to do,” Rosen said. “Although my time in the Legislature is concluding, my commitment to open government is not.
Rosen, who lives in Bucksport, was first elected to the Legislature in 1998 as a state representative. He is completing his fourth term as a senator. He and his wife, four-term State Rep. Kimberley Rosen, are stepping down because term limits.
The MFOIC Sunshine Award honors citizens, journalists, media organizations or community groups that have championed, protected and promoted public access to government meetings, public records and court proceedings or otherwise promoted the public’s right to know and to publish, broadcast and speak freely about issues of public concern.
The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is a nonprofit corporation representing individuals and organizations committed to open access to public information in print, electronic and digital formats. The coalition includes media representatives, attorneys, librarians, state and local government officials, educators and others who care about transparency in government, information access and the role of an informed citizenry in a democracy.