The Spokesman-Review used its Sunday paper to provide a strong early endorsement of I-1608, the pro-transparency initiative that would open up government negotiations to the public and press. Included in each copy of the paper’s most-read edition was an initiative signature petition for readers to sign and gather additional signatures.
The Washington State press corps showed itself as the most vigilant guardians of open government earlier this year when front-page editorials were run in multiple newspapers to voice opposition to a government secrecy bill passed by the legislature. The Yes on 1608 campaign anticipates that many more newspapers will want to weigh in with endorsements of the leading good government initiative on the ballot this year.
In its editorial, the Spokesman-Review noted that important financial and policy decisions are currently made in secret at the request of those who benefit from the negotiations:
I-1608 would require local and state governments to conduct collective bargaining in public. There’d be no more haggling with public employee unions behind closed doors.
Public union contracts that spend millions or even billions of dollars now emerge from secrecy. Negotiators present the contract as a done deal; take it or leave it, taxpayers.
Policy decisions can come out of contract negotiations, too. For example, police might demand concessions on body cameras, or teachers might seek to limit class sizes. Those are important issues, to be sure, and the people paying the bills should get to observe how they are decided.
Open bargaining sessions also would benefit rank-and-file union members, who are just as excluded from seeing the talks. They can only trust that their leaders are negotiating well on their behalf.
I-1608 would change all that. If voters approve it, all public employee contract negotiations would have to be open to the public.
The public outcry over the Legislature’s attempt to dial back access to its own records earlier this year was a reminder that Washingtonians care, passionately, about conducting the public’s business out in the open. To that end, included in every Sunday edition of the Spokane newspaper was an I-1608 signature petition. Spokesman-Review readers can sign them and gather signatures from family, neighbors, and co-workers to help I-1608 qualify for the ballot.
Responding to the editorial, I-1608 organizer Craig Williamson said, “It’s the voters and the state’s press corps who value open government most dearly. We know the changes we need aren’t going to come from the political insiders, who are only too happy to negotiate behind locked doors. It’s up to the people to make this happen.”
Striking a similar note, the Spokesman-Review noted in its editorial:
If elected officials and bureaucrats all had noble intent and the good of the people in mind, I-1608 wouldn’t be necessary. Nothing prevents local government bodies from negotiating in sunlight, but most choose not to. Nothing prevents lawmakers from fixing the law to require all negotiations be public, but they choose not to.
So it falls to voters.