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R-71 news breaks from strange directions

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 20, 2009 at 7:27 am |
September 21, 2009 1:23 pm

Tim Eyman is known more for initiatives than journalism, but he actually broke some news last Wednesday that left the secretary of state’s office embarrassed.

Here’s a link to a Kitsap Sun blog that contains both Eyman’s blast and a rebuttal from Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government.

Strip away Eyman’s off-putting blustering about fraud and lying, and he’s essentially right: The secretary of state’s office released no information about who signed petitions until 2006, when the practice began with one of Eyman’s initiatives. Read today’s editorial.

The reasons are innocent: State archivists’ resistance to storing records (such as petitions) in easily shared digital formats, and the fact that Sam Reed’s predecessors believed that the identities of initiative signers was confidential. But the fact remains that release is a very recent phenomenon.

We have a strong bias toward open public records, hence our arguments that the public ought to have access to petitions and most other government documents. Factor that bias in when you read our commentary. We’re also vehemently opposed to anyone harassing petition-signers, but we think that’s a problem to be dealt with in other ways – such as prosecution and public shaming.

Eyman buttressed his case Friday afternoon when he produced this sympathic report by Erik Smith, a former reporter for the Tri-City Herald. Erik talked at length to Don Whiting, assistant secretary of state under Reed’s immediate predecessor, Ralph Munro.

Smith also dug up what appears to be a forgotten Thurston County court precedent AGAINST releasing petitions, at least without the signers’ names blacked out.

A fascinating aspect of this is that Smith has been doing his reporting on a Web site called HealthCare Today. Not a platform you’d normally turn to for news and spin on a legal dispute over petitions. But with traditional newsrooms skinnied down so much, you take news where you can find it. Even from Tim Eyman, heaven help us.

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