Freedom New Mexico
E very week of the year has been designated by somebody as National Something Week, designed to bring public attention to issues and causes.
Such a din of commemoration makes it likely for some of the more serious issues to get lost in the shuffle. So we devote this space today to calling attention to an issue being highlighted this week that’s about nothing less than freedom. Everyone’s freedom. The freedom to know, which in a free society must precede the freedom to act.
This is National Sunshine Week, based on the metaphor for what is needed to be cast upon the actions of government so they are clearly known to all.
According to sunshineweek.org, its roots are in 2002, when the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors created “Sunshine Sunday.”
Simultaneous editorials in that state’s major newspapers on that day called attention to efforts in the Florida Legislature to pass new exceptions to a state law granting access to public records, which over three more Sunshine Sundays thwarted about 300 proposed exemptions to open-government laws, according to the site.
Other states began their own versions, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors sponsored the first National Sunshine Week in 2005.
The need to spread the sunshine in New Mexico is just as important as it was in Florida.
Our state Legislature, as one example, continues to hold conference committee meetings — where the foundation for most new law is established — in secret, where private deals can be made without constituents’ knowledge.
Closer to home, our government leaders must constantly be reminded that police incident reports, most court records and public officials’ salaries are, by law, open to public inspection.
The state’s Inspection of Public Records Act tells us “The citizen’s right to know is the rule and secrecy is the exception.”
Yet, left to decide on its own, government tends to define “exception” in broad terms — even if secrecy is needed only to prevent government embarrassment.
Our republic, in order for it to survive, requires a vigilant public and a vigilant press. Our nation’s Founders protected the freedom to question government authority and to thus keep such authority from wrongfully intruding on our personal liberties.
But the less we know, the less empowered we all are to perform that function and the more likely the chances for government power to grow unchecked.
Sunshine Week lasts only seven days. Citizens in a free society have a duty to question their leaders and so preserve our freedoms, no matter which week it is.