Late Friday, after the Senate Democrats were questioned by the press about closing the door to Tuesday’s evening caucus, the Dems reversed themselves and announced the caucus — to be held tonight at 5:30 p.m. at Sweet Chili Thai in Augusta — would be “open to the press.”
But, since Maine’s Freedom of Access Act makes no distinction between “public” and “press,” the reversal should more correctly and more simply have noted that the caucus would be “open.”
That’s good news.
On Thursday last week, the Maine Senate Democrats sent a message to Maine’s press, among others, that they would caucus Tuesday to “nominate and select leaders for President, Majority Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Secretary and Assistant Secretary. Please note this meeting is closed to the press.”
Then, after being contacted by Maine’s press and questioned why the Dems would hold elections of leadership positions behind closed doors, the Maine Senate Democrats issued a second announcement under pressure late Friday that the caucus would be “open to the press.”
The Senate Dems called this reversal a “correction” to an email and, on Monday, said the “Senate Democratic caucus feels strongly about transparency and public access and to that end, changed its precedent.”
It’s a welcome change, but a weak explanation.
If the Senate Democratic caucus feels strongly about transparency and public access, it would not have closed the meeting in the first place.
Senate Dems did the right thing here, and we are happy to acknowledge that effort and welcome continued transparency.
We also want our readers to know that, given Saturday’s editorial critical of the Dems' position, that the shift in precedent was made late Friday after the editorial was written. The announcement of that shift was not received until Saturday morning, so our criticism was — unfortunately — dated, and for that we apologize.
Going forward, given the House Dems' long history of self-guided transparency, we hope to see their habits infect their peers in the Senate as we welcome the incoming 126th Legislature next month.
Public access is not a thing of convenience.
It’s a thing of accountability and trust.
The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.