Our governor is entitled, by the constitution, to operate in a shroud of secrecy, the state Supreme Court has ruled. Our governor is due to the same black cloak of “executive privilege” granted President Richard Nixon as he tried to block disclosure of his secrets. The state’s long tradition of open government, the Public Records Act approved by voters requiring records be open unless specifically exempt, none of that applies to the state’s executive. Should a citizen ask to view a document, the governor may “invoke a gubernatorial communications privilege” in response. The governor need not provide further justification. The citizen will have to go to court to prove a particular need, expensive and unlikely.
The 8-1 ruling Oct. 17 in Freedom Foundation v. Gregoire, turns the state’s open government law on its head. Where a record was presumed open unless government justified a need for secrecy, a governor’s record can now be presumed secret until a citizen invests the time and effort to pry it loose. The openness the law says is required of all government does not apply to the governor, for it infringes on the separation of powers. “The (Public Records Act) cannot override this constitutional delegation of power; any such attempt must come through constitutional amendment,” the court majority said, citing Nixon’s case as precedent.