Resolution reduces transparency

I don’t know who I’m specifically sticking up for with this column. But the beauty of it is that it doesn’t matter.

The New Mexico Senate, on Feb. 23, passed Resolution 4, which amended its rules to state that, “Photography, video or audio recording or transmission of committee proceedings may, upon request, be allowed with the permission of the chair and ranking member.”

I’ve been caught up in ridiculous legislation proposed by other legislatures, including bills that require citizens to pay state fees and taxes with gold and silver coins (Georgia), penalize those who hire illegal immigrants unless it’s for housework (Texas) and outlaw photographing a farm from a public road (Florida).

But this one feels more ridiculous, because it’s an affront to government transparency. At a recent Senate committee meeting, Heath Haussamen of nmpolitics.net was recording. He was asked to identify himself with the meeting in session. Permission was granted, but what about the taxpayer who will demur and turn off the camera?

To say the least, Haussamen was unnerved. The state’s public records act doesn’t let the government ask why somebody wants public records. He views a public meeting as an extension of public record, and he was asked why he was recording.

“It’s like the U.S. Border Patrol asking at checkpoints where you’re going,” Haussamen wrote in a response piece. “The answer most people don’t have the chutzpah to give is that it’s none of their business. They have a right to ask if you’re an American citizen, but the government has absolutely no business knowing where you’re going.”

For full disclosure … oh wait, I don’t have to disclose anything. I’ve never met Haussamen, and nothing says I ever will meet him. No e-mails. No phone calls. No personal conflicts make me sympathetic towards his cause.

My sympathies lie with the need for a transparent government. Legislators talk about an honest, open government, but given the chance to walk the talk only three senators did — Sander Rue, Mark Boitano and Pete Wirth.

I can understand the fears. New media can empower anybody with a computer or a cell phone, and the only ethics that apply belong to whoever has the computer or cell phone. Legislators don’t want to be targets of ideologues. Nobody does.

But Haussamen is right. It’s neither the Legislature’s job to determine who’s an ideologue, let alone stop them from recording public meetings. And if it were, isn’t the better approach full webcasting and online archiving, so the public can clearly see what context ideology removed?

Haussamen has contributed more than several New Mexicans, myself included, to political reporting in the state. But the Senate spoke, and overwhelmingly said Haussamen’s contribution matters less — that he’s subject to government approval, because he doesn’t work for a radio station, a television station or a newspaper.

It just so happens I work for a newspaper. And speaking in my official capacity, the Senate should be ashamed.