For the better part of a decade I have watched politics divide. Families have been torn apart, children are suspicious of their parents, and dinner tables have become tense.
Conversations about how to make our state and country better have become a constant tit-for-tat exercise in futility — or worse, loved ones lose contact altogether.
Through all of this grief, I can’t help but think “Arkansas, we are better than this.”
We do not have to accept the division and vitriol we’re fed these days. Arkansans are capable of coming together like no one else I know.
That fact has been on glorious display lately as we’ve watched conservative farmers and liberal lawyers lock arms around an issue dear to every single one of us: transparency in government.
Arkansans have had a uniquely substantial right to know how our government is using its time and resources — that is to say, our tax dollars — since the first Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1967. Then-Governor Winthrop Rockefeller considered it one of the greatest achievements of his administration. The law faced legal challenges, but the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a broad interpretation that favored transparency. That ruling has guided our state’s focus on transparency for years.
“It is vital in a democratic society that public business be performed in an open and public manner. We have no hesitation in asserting our conviction that the Freedom of Information Act was passed wholly in the public interest and is to be liberally interpreted to the end that its praiseworthy purposes may be achieved.” Associate Justice George Rose Smith
But you don’t need a history lesson to understand the main idea here: Do we want the government to be able to keep secrets from its people, or do we believe that the government should be open and accountable to the people who created it?
Arkansans have made our answer clear, and we did it by coming together in ways we haven’t seen in years.
It’s hard to know where we go from here, and we know that the fight against government secrecy isn’t over. But for once, the fight won’t be among neighbors and family members. The fight for government transparency will be between us, the people of Arkansas, and a select few of the powerful.
When the people of Arkansas stand together, we’ve already won.