May 24, 2002 The Voice of the Times blasts legislators' idea of secret subsistence meetings

Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2002

We note with dismay the news that special interests with a stake in the outcome of the subsistence debate are meeting next week in Anchorage -- behind closed doors.

The explanation offered by Senate Resources Chairman John Torgerson, R-Kasilof, the organizer of the get-together, is that the special legislative session called by Gov. Tony Knowles to deal with the thorny issue fizzled.

Among those reportedly invited to the closed-door meeting are the Alaska Federation of Natives, the Alaska Outdoors Council, the United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Professional Hunters Association.

Torgerson was quoted this way in the Daily News: ''This is not show and tell, this is time to cut a deal.'' If a ''deal'' can be reached among the participants, public hearings would be scheduled later, he said.

Wait just a darn minute.

That's a cart-before-the-horse way to handle one of the most explosive issues in the state. What we'll do, Torgerson seems to be saying, is settle the matter among the special interests -- some of whom have a financial stake in the outcome -- and let ordinary citizens in on the ''deal'' later.

Why would anybody think that Alaskans not invited to the secret meeting -- no matter their position on subsistence -- would blindly go along with whatever the ''deal'' turns out to be? How will ordinary people know their rights were protected? How will they know who to believe when they cannot hear the arguments for and against any part of the ''deal'' that was reached? And how does this kind of thing increase, by even an iota, citizens' trust in government?

There is an increasing lust by government at all levels to operate more and more in secrecy. The excuses more often than not are expediency and necessity. Nobody will speak their true mind in public, secrecy proponents say, and nothing will get done if the proceedings are open to the public.

In truth, far too often, the closed door is nothing more than protection for people who don't want to be held accountable for their actions, their thinking or their speech. Despite the yammering to the contrary, it has nothing to do with good government. It has to do with getting away with murder while the ordinary citizen is left holding the bag.

There is no excuse for closed-door meetings such as those proposed by Sen. Torgerson, and nobody with an IQ above room temperature would accept any ''deal'' crafted in such secrecy -- belated public hearings or not.

Harry Truman said it best: ''Secrecy and a free, democratic government don't mix.''

That is obvious to us. It's sad so many politicians just don't get it.

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