By Sen. Jim Runestad
23rd Senate District
When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer first ran for office, she released a 10-point “sunshine plan” that was supposed to make state government “more open, transparent and accountable to Michigan taxpayers.”
Among other things, she promised to promote financial disclosure for legislators, to toughen lobbying rules, and to open her own office to Freedom of Information Act requests — with or without the Legislature’s help. Legislative Democrats called for the same, promising voters good government reforms.
And yet, nothing has changed. It’s another political promise that has proven to be nothing but empty lip service.
If anything, we’ve seen the governor and Lansing Democrats take steps in the opposite direction when it comes to transparency, steps that have taken our state further into darkness, and away from the openness of sunshine.
We’ve seen taxpayer-funded hush money payments made to department directors, COVID-19 nursing home death data hidden from the public, possible cover-ups by Child Protective Services, secret corporate welfare deals, shady spending projects, secret bills voted on without any committee hearings, protections for government whistleblowers vetoed, hypocritical gimmicks to avoid voter referendums, and more maneuvers that violate the very idea of an honest government.
So, what gives?
It is often more convenient to blame someone else for not getting something done, and that is especially true when it comes to this governor’s lack of effort on transparency. But now that she and her fellow Democrats have complete control, there are no excuses left. The governor can’t blame anyone else for failing to do what she promised she would do.
After talking about it for years and years, Democrats finally have their chance to implement good government reforms under the banner of transparency. But we are now four months into the term, and Democrats have yet to even introduce promised Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act bills.
Every term, I have introduced legislation that would make our Legislature and our state government more open to the public. Presently, Senate Bills 221-224 would prevent former legislators from becoming lobbyists for at least two years after leaving office and would prevent the spouses of legislators from registering as lobbyists. This package would also expand FOIA and the Legislative Open Records Act to apply to both the governor and the Legislature. These are simple, sensible bills would make big strides in making government more transparent.
I have also introduced bills to open up Child Protective Services to limited legislative inquiry and legislation to provide more transparency and accountability from our state’s largest utility providers.
When it comes to our state’s spending and appropriations processes, we have an obligation to be clearer about how we use taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. That is why I am introducing legislation that would prevent the state from spending any money on a project unless we know who is requesting the funding, how it will be spent, and why the taxpayers should be paying for it.
Again and again, I have presented commonsense changes that both sides of the aisle should be able to support.
Republicans and Democrats alike have failed the Michigan people for years. Leadership in both parties are responsible for Michigan’s consistently failing grades when it comes to transparency.
But there are those of us who are still trying to make our government more open and honest. I remain willing to work with Democratic leadership — or anyone, for that matter — to get these reforms passed.
My colleagues on the other side of the aisle just have to use their power to do what they promised they would do, and work with us to pass these bills. It is past time to act.
The governor and Democrats have talked the talk on transparency long enough.
Now we get to find out if they are willing to walk the walk. I am ready to walk with them.
This op-ed appeared in the April 14, 2023 edition of The Detroit News. State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 23rd District.