More than two dozen candidates for statewide, legislative or county offices in Oklahoma have pledged to support open government in the state.
Republicans, Democrats and independents signed Freedom of Information Oklahoma Inc.'s “Open Government Pledge.”
“Open government isn't an issue that belongs to one political party. It's not about politics. It's about bettering government for all Oklahomans,” said Kay Boies, FOI Oklahoma Inc. president and executive director of the Oklahoma Library Association.
Oklahoma's Open Records and Open Meeting laws ranked 31st and 32nd, respectively, in a national report released Wednesday, Oct. 27. Overall, the strength of Oklahoma laws related to transparency, accountability and limits in government ranked 21st in the Better Government Association's BGA-Alper Integrity Index.
FOI Oklahoma recently asked 215 candidates in the state to sign a pledge to uphold the spirit of Oklahoma's open government laws. Among the 25 who did are 21 seeking legislative seats.
“We're disappointed that more candidates - particularly those running for county offices - didn't publicly commit to conducting government in the open,” said Dr. Joey Senat, FOI Oklahoma past president and an associate professor in journalism at Oklahoma State University.
“But it's not surprising given the outright contempt that so many officials in this state demonstrate for the public's right to know,” he said. “We're encouraged, however, by those candidates who have pledged to protect the right of Oklahomans to know what their government is doing.”
The “Open Government Pledge” is part of a national effort to spur public commitments to government transparency from candidates for president down to city council contests.
In signing the pledge, candidates “endorse the purpose of Oklahoma's Open Meeting and Open Records laws to ensure and facilitate the public's understanding of governmental processes and problems.” They also “pledge to support, at every opportunity, the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government so that they can efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”
Candidates for state House and Senate seats also promise to “support legislation to strengthen the letter and the spirit of Oklahoma's Open Meeting and Open Records laws.” Candidates for other state and local offices pledge that they and the public bodies they are “elected to govern will comply with not only the letter but also the spirit of Oklahoma's Open Meeting and Open Records laws.”
What if candidates don't live up to the promises?
“Then we show them the door at the next election and elect people with the integrity to live up to their promises and to conduct our government in the open,” said Senat. “Ultimately, it's up to the voters to hold their elected officials accountable.”
Founded in 1990, FOI Oklahoma Inc. is a statewide not-for-profit organization actively supporting those organizations and individuals working to open records or provide access to meetings illegally closed.