Former President Donald Trump remains consistent only in his inconsistency.
Trump recently sued the National Archives and a congressional committee to block the public from seeing some 770 pages of his administration’s records about the riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Two weeks after taking his stand for opaque operations, Trump complained about government secrecy.
“A judge in Georgia refuses to let us look at the ballots, which I have little doubt are terrible. … Our country is going to hell and we are not allowed transparency even in our elections,” he wrote in a statement.
Trump will use the hackneyed word “transparency” any time he believes it’s to his advantage. This doesn’t make him unusual. It makes him a politician.
State Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, is no more a champion of openness than Republican Trump, though she says otherwise.
“I’m really hopeful that we are going to be able to change the way the [finance] committee works and have it be more transparent,” Stewart said on a chilly day in January.
In the heat of summertime, Stewart was less interested in transparency than in guarding the secrets of a few government insiders.
She didn’t want her colleagues on the Legislative Education Study Committee to see the findings of a taxpayer-funded investigation of Rachel Gudgel, a state administrator who disparaged Native Americans.
Stewart said the investigation was long over, and Gudgel would remain in her job, end of story. Rep. Derrick Lente, D-Sandia Pueblo, countered that legislators with direct supervisory authority over Gudgel had been kept in darkness by Stewart, president pro tem of the Senate, and other legislative leaders. Lente and most other lawmakers didn’t know what Gudgel had said or done.
It took another month of legislative infighting before Lente and eight other elected legislators who supervised Gudgel finally received a summary of the investigator’s report.
Public pressure intensified, and Gudgel finally resigned from office. She didn’t walk away penniless. Gudgel received almost six months’ pay, or about $60,000, for what she said was accrued leave.
The word “transparency” has appeared in 96 editions of The New Mexican this year. It’s been even more prevalent in the Albuquerque Journal, finding its way into print in 158 editions. The context was always openness in government.
Yet even the most essential information in political decisions can be omitted by high-ranking politicians who say they believe in transparency.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, authorized a news release this year about her granting clemency to 19 people with criminal records.
“The governor’s pardon restores certain fundamental rights, such as the right to vote and the right to hold public office and other positions of public trust,” the statement said.
Missing were the names and crimes of the people Lujan Grisham pardoned. It took a followup request before her press secretary provided the list of criminals fortunate enough to receive mercy from the executive branch.
The federal government is far more secretive, even deceptive, though each president pledges a commitment to transparency.
Years ago, while working at a different newspaper during the presidency of George W. Bush, I delved into the mysterious death of an Army private in Iraq. Military handouts were so vague they raised suspicions. Every question was met with stonewalling.
After three weeks, the Army admitted the private had been shot to death in an argument with a fellow U.S. soldier. Only because the shooter was charged with murder did the truth seep out.
Even more troubling, this episode happened a couple of years after the Army tried to cover up details in the death of Pat Tillman, who left the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals to fight in Afghanistan.
The Army claimed Tillman died during an epic battle in which he was “killed by the Taliban.” Tillman actually died by friendly fire, one of the more sanitized and incongruous terms in warfare.
Stakes at the local and state level usually don’t reach life and death, but talk of transparency is unrelenting.
“I think we have spent a lot of time forming an ethics committee to increase our rules around transparency. We just need to follow the spirit of that effort,” Rep. Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said when lawmakers went into session this year.
Always stilted, “transparency” has turned into a cliché, overworked and often ignored. That’s too bad because what we don’t know usually hurts us.