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Spectrum News interviews Rep. James Topton

Which of the following is true of the General Assembly and it's supermajority?

[a] it excluded itself and it's administrative arm, the Legislative Research Commission, from the open records law in 2021;

[b] it justified that change in the law after 45 years by asserting that it's purpose was to protect constituent privacy;

[c] it's actual purpose was to control the flow of legislative records and information in order to insulate itself from public oversight and accountability;

[d] it used it's power to invest the public with the right to know in 1976 but abused its power by withholding a public record from them on and after March 2, 2023; 

[e] it cynically exploited the record withheld on and after March 2, 2023, in a bungling attempt at political gain;

[f] all of the above. 

The answer is, of course, [f], and "F" is the grade the supermajority earns for its failing transparency record.

Whether the supermajority likes it or not, the story of the calculated delayed release of the March 2, 2023, letter from University of Kentucky Healthcare is a story about public records and a breach of public trust. 

Lexington Herald-Leader opinion editor Linda Blackford provides the backstory:

"Last spring, in the midst of all the overheated debate over transgender issues in Frankfort, Rep. James Tipton did a very sensible thing. He wrote a letter to a University of Kentucky healthcare clinic to see if they performed any gender-affirming surgery.

"It turns out UK’s Transform Health Clinic had performed some mastectomies on transgender teens, so small a number that they wouldn’t even say how many because it might violate HIPPA laws. (In my experience with UK, that means fewer than five cases.)

"But then, Tipton did the political thing. He turned the UK letter over to Republican leadership. It was mentioned in a floor speech by Sen. Lindsay Tichenor in March. But instead of using the letter to answer a lot of questions, or hold a press conference, they sat on it until the governor’s race got heated up, then

released it to a right-wing media site called the Washington Free Beacon."………

A public record was created -- the March 2 letter from one public official to another -- acknowledged in a brief reference on the Senate floor -- then concealed from public scrutiny until it became a tool in an attack on the incumbent Democratic Governor. 

To the supermajority's great disappointment, they were hoist with their own petard. 

This is Kentucky's supermajority, testing the limits of Kentuckians' tolerance for deception by concealing this and other public records then trotting them out to gain a hoped for political advantage. This time the supermajority monumentally miscalculated.

Observers debated fault for the delayed release of the public records on Tuesday -- colloquially, who had egg on their face -- appearing to land somewhere between University of Kentucky Healthcare and the Governor. They continued to assign fault on Wednesday, doing a 180 and ultimately assigning blame where it belonged -- on Tipton, the requester/recipient of the letter and members of the supermajority. This is additional proof that they do not ascribe to the policies that support Kentucky's open government law and the words of the preamble: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know; the people insist on remaining informed so they may retain control over the instruments they have created.” 

Viewed from an open government perspective, it is the members of the supermajority who have egg on their faces. And make their eggs "F" for fried --  as well as for their failing transparency/accountability grade. 

"Nothing could be more irrational than to give people power," the philosophical founding father of freedom of information James Madison wrote, "and to withhold from them information with which power is abused."

This most recent breach of the public's trust represents little more than the cynical weaponization of public records for political gain by arrogant lawmakers who hold themselves above the law. 

Thankfully, it failed.


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