I know that memories of snowy Pacific Northwest Thanksgivings do exist, but the sudden onset of winter before turning the calendar to December hit abruptly this week. Some of that’s the emotional roller-coaster my fellow CKSD parents felt from the 5 a.m. text messages saying school will be in session or starting late… only to have the rug pulled out an hour later. Twice.
Our household made it through a week with very little class time, but I look at that La Nina forecast and... well, I need to comes to grips with the fact it’s going to be a long winter.
My bellyaching about a few inches of snow would be scoffed at by my younger brother, who’s lived in rural Alaska for the past two decades. And I mean the kind of places where a four-wheeler (summer and fall) and snowmobile (winter) are used rather than a car, and the moose you hunt is how you fill the freezer for the winter. I’ve been talking to him lately about the ABC television show “Alaska Daily,” which I’m recommending highly to you folks who read and value newspapers.
The story is about Anchorage’s daily newspaper, its newsroom diminished by staffing cuts and moved to a small office in a strip mall. Management recruits a renowned-but-disgraced journalist to help track a local story about missing indigenous women, a storyline that’s torn directly from real headlines in The Last Frontier. The details about reductions in reporting capacity ring true, and the writers do a good job of adding details that look much like we do at the Sun — a woman leaving the newsroom to pick her kids up, a guy who’s always got a coffee in his hand, an editor who’s fashion sense leaves a little something to be desired — like an iron.
As the carpet-bagger reporter and younger, Native Alaskan writer track down the story of a woman’s death, they often confront authorities with a card we play — a request for documents that by law must be made public. It’s a part of the show that dramatizes the details for effect — that is, just saying “PUBLIC RECORDS” isn’t like waving a magic wand. In real life we make public records request on paper, following and citing Washington’s Public Records Act, or PRA, that governs disclosure of the documents that underpin the work your tax dollars pay for. We pay a fee for the records, and sit and work on other stories until the records arrive. I admit that wouldn’t keep viewers glued to the screen.
A recent story by Andrew Binion, about a group raising $31,000 to pay for a recount of ballots in the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office race, which Sheriff John Gese won by more than 20,000 votes and without a sniff of impropriety, has a corollary to the PRA. I don’t know if those supporters of candidate Rick Kuss have been making requests of County Auditor Paul Andrews regarding the details of vote-counting, but plenty of like-minded folks have around the state.
According to a recent story by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, PRA requests for voting information, including software manuals for machines that tabulate ballots, have risen dramatically since the 2020 election, when former President Donald Trump started sowing the seeds of election skepticism. From the Secretary of State’s office all the way down to small counties like Pend Oreille, auditors are spending more and more time, the Spokesman reported, researching complicated requests about IP addresses or systems manuals, which sometimes the requestor admittedly doesn’t even understand.
The PRA almost annually weathers assaults during the state’s legislative session, sometimes to update laws written before the digital age and at other times because lawmakers or special interest groups want the public to know less, not more, about what they are doing. This election-denial trend will likely raise that issue again, as county auditors seek a way to protect their staffs from being overburdened by these frivolous requests. (In full disclosure, we are part of an association of news organizations, Allied Daily Newspapers, that lobbies to protect access under the PRA.)
Most of you will never interact with the PRA, so you should know our state is fortunate to have one of the better laws in the country when it comes to public records disclosure and requirements for open public meetings. But in the quest to protect agencies from undue burdens when dealing with the public, which is probably coming when lawmakers gather in Olympia, the risk of eroding the protections citizens should demand returns. I encourage our legislative delegation, nearly all of whom from the 23rd, 26th and 35th districts return to the capitol with previous experience, to stand up for the openness and transparency that a healthy civic dialogue depends on. Election skepticism may or may not be here to stay, but the accountability for government that our law provides isn’t something we can let erode.
David Nelson has been the editor of the Kitsap Sun since 2009. Contact him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Kitsap Sun: David Nelson: Don't allow election skeptics to curb open government