Doug Anstaett: Sunshine, participation key to self-government

03/16/2014 12:00 AM

03/14/2014 7:10 PM

I’ll leave the “climate change” argument to the scientists. That, after all, is their bailiwick.

But I do know this about the weather: We could still use more sunshine – in government at least.

Despite the fact that we’ve hardly ever met a politician who didn’t wholeheartedly embrace “transparency” – at least at election time – the road to truly open government is filled with potholes, roadblocks and far too many orange traffic cones.

If you’ve been following Edward Snowden’s revelations about the National Security Agency’s penchant for invading the privacy of Americans, as well as potential terrorists, you’ve got to conclude government is watching us far more closely than we are watching it.

The Kansas Press Association still must fight each year during the legislative session to open up another door or close another loophole so that citizens can know more about what their government is doing.

March 16-22 is set aside this year to sing the praises of transparency. It’s called Sunshine Week.

You should call it a week to proclaim your “right to know.”

Because without citizen involvement and scrutiny of those we have elected to office, we’ve only done half of the job.

I spoke recently to the Topeka-Shawnee County League of Women Voters about open government laws in Kansas. The league has a slogan that really explains what our system of self-government in the United States is all about: “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

How true.

If we think our visit to the voting booth every few years is all we need to do to fulfill our role as citizen, we’re sadly mistaken. It actually is only the beginning. Our system of government requires our active participation.

We pride ourselves on the concept of self-government. That word “self” is the key. We govern ourselves. We don’t bow to or take orders from a king, or a dictator.

Our “citizen legislators” make the decisions that affect the lives of those around them. We elect our neighbors to represent us, but our obligation doesn’t stop there.

We must remain vigilant, because open government requires probing eyes and curious minds.

President Reagan said, when confronted with arms-reduction talks with the Soviets in the 1980s: “Trust, but verify.”

We should require no less of ourselves as we partici-pate in our government. The only way we can make it more open is to pay attention.

Trust, but verify.

That means attending meetings.

That means keeping ourselves informed.

That means asking questions.

They say it takes two to tango, but it takes far more to make our representative system of government work.

It requires your involvement.

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