The report is published by the Better Government Association and was compiled with the support of the Ford Foundation. [Click Integrity Index.]
A few days ago, when the matter of government secrecy came up on another blog, I posted a comment noting that our state government operates like many Third World governments do. I got the typical South Dakota responses back. One seemed indignant that I would compare South Dakota to the Third World. My comparison was not made as hyperbole or exaggeration. When it comes to government that operates in secret and shuts the citizens out of knowledge or participation in its operations and decisions, South Dakota is right up there with the most devious and secretive regimes. In fact, it criminalizes attempts to inform the public about government activities that are done in the name of the people. It has a gag law that can result in a jail sentence for any government official who tells the public that a corporation is under investigation. The state engages in negotiations with Burlington Northern Sante Fe and, because the railroad does not want the public to know what kind of transaction is being proposed, the state officials conduct what is public business in secret. Two regents get an idea for a new university campus in Sioux Falls and make the plans and arrangements in secrecy, then spring them on their fellow regents and the legislature, as if they are monarchs informing their court of their designs.
And now a group of legislators has a bill on the floor to prevent the public release of lists of people in the state who have concealed weapons permits. The reason for such a list to be secret is incomprehensible, except for the fact that some people in South Dakota REALLY DO NOT want open government.
In the matter of open government, South Dakota compares with Third World oligarchy. When you add in factors like the poverty rate and the pay, treatment, and rights of working people, the comparison becomes more apt.
Todd Epp and Sheldon Osborne have started an organization with a web page to monitor and work for open government in Minnehaha and Lincoln Counties. The problems with secret and devious government in South Dakota is by no means limited to the state level. Still, few people seem to understand or care that open government by the people is a failure in South Dakota in many places and in many instances.
We also received the favorite South Dakota response when we made our critical comment about the failure of open government. It was the usual, if you don't like South Dakota, why don't you leave? That is part of the problem. People who do care about open, honest government, in fact, get out. In the past year, a number of families I know I have left. Others are in the process of leaving. And I also know of some enterprises that have left and others that have investigated South Dakota and have chosen to go elsewhere because of the climate of repressive secrecy and rule by oligarchy. People who truly believe that repressive, devious, and below-board governments are detrimental to families and enterprises choose to live their lives elsewhere. Whatever attributes South Dakota has, the regressive and insidious aspects of its governance are not democratic and do not provide the freedoms and opportunities that democratic government creates.
In political discussion, we often hear people talk about the truth. It reminds us of Jack Nicholson in the film "A Few Good Men." On the witness stand at a court martial, the character played by Nicholson is told by a lawyer, "I want the truth." Nicholson replies, "You can't handle the truth."
And that is what happens in South Dakota when you bring up the fact that it ranks absolutely the lowest in the nation in open government. Too many people can't handle the truth. It endangers their self-image.
What they indulge themselves in is truthiness, the word coined by political satirist Stephen Colbert. Truthiness is defined as "the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true."
In South Dakota, if you want to deal in facts known to be true, you will be invited to leave the state.
Problems cannot be solved until they are acknowledged and defined. In South Dakota, many people prefer to ignore the facts and go about their lives condemning people who find troubling facts. That is the circumstance that allows clandestine, devious, and deceptive government to operate in South Dakota.
When it comes to open and honest government, South Dakota ranks first in truthiness.
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