It's early morning down here at in Lexington, Kentucky and I just finished drafting remarks for a press conference I will be attending in Frankfort where state lawmakers will announce landmark legislation opposing Internet censorship, and fighting back against extreme right-wing Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R). Recently, Fletcher blocked state computer access to the Bluegrass Report, run by political strategist and Fletcher critic Mark Nickolas. In response, Nickolas filed a federal lawsuit. Now, the Progressive States Network is helping lawmakers launch state legislation to address the situation - legislation that will be a national model to fight back against right-wing power grabs.
Fletcher's move, if left unchecked, could set a dangerous precedent of power-hungry politicians everywhere being allowed to censor their political opponents. In the next few hours, the Progressive States Network will have an online petition at its website that you can sign in support of the legislation. In the meantime, I am posting the remarks I will give in in the extended entry below to give you a sense of why this is important nationally.
Statement By David Sirota, Progressive States' Co-Chair, At Press Conference Announcing New Information Freedom Legislation - Frankfort, KY
I want to thank State Treasurer Jonathan Miller and State Representative Kathy Stein for having the courage to bring this important legislation forward. One of the reasons the Progressive States Network was founded earlier this year was to support state lawmakers and legislation that protects the basic rights and freedoms that America was founded on - rights and freedoms that are clearly under attack by extreme right-wing politicians who are desperate to hoard power.
Obviously, one of those basic rights is the First Amendment, and citizens' access to information free of censorship on political grounds. Sadly, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) is abusing the Kentucky governor's office in his disgusting attempt to censor his political opponents. In the last week, the Governor has done his best cartoonish impression of a Soviet-style dictator, selectively blocking state government access to websites that publish information critical of his administration.
The governor's desperate behavior is the latest in a string of authoritarian moves by him designed to consolidate power in the face of a public that is clearly disgusted with his leadership. Within his first week in office, Gov. Fletcher rescinded collective bargaining rights for state workers. Later, he was indicted on charges of trying to game Kentucky's civil service laws so as to load up state government with political appointees.
We also find out that instead of honestly answering the indictment against him, he's considering proposing a constitutional amendment to take away the power of Kentucky voters to elect their Attorney General and their State Treasurer, and instead make these positions appointed by him alone - a perfect way to make sure his power is never challenged.
And now, with his public approval ratings hitting rock bottom, he's trying to block Internet access to state workers - a brazen attempt to prevent as many people as possible from even reading about his dictatorial behavior and unethical actions. We might ask Governor Fletcher: what's next? Will he suddenly order book burning on the Capitol steps?
As the old saying goes, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Clearly, these are the moves of a corrupt politician seeking absolute power - and absolute corruption. And it is up to the Kentucky legislature - and legislatures everywhere - to say enough is enough.
That's why I am proud that the Progressive States Network is joining Treasurer Miller and Representative Stein in pushing this legislation. The bill they are drafting is very simple and straightforward: It preserves the right of state agencies to prohibit employees from using their work computers and resources inappropriately - but bans agencies from exercising that right based on political viewpoints. Put another way, agencies can make sure workers are using state resources appropriately, but they cannot ban content because of the political viewpoints of that content.
Frankly, I am embarrassed that in the year 2006, states need this legislation. I am embarrassed that we now live in a country where opportunistic politicians take out their anger at their sagging poll numbers by displaying open contempt for the constitutional rights this country was founded on.
But make no mistake about it - Governor Fletcher's actions are part of a larger effort by right-wing politicians to weaken our country's democracy. He is just two years removed from his service in the ultra-right-wing Congress - and clearly, Washington's corrupt, power-greedy ways wore off on him during his time there. His moves to limit workers' rights, control access to information like a tyrant and consolidate power follow similar moves by his right-wing cronies. For instance, Missouri's Matt Blunt and Indiana's Mitch Daniels - another corrupt Washington-politician-turned-governor - terminated collective bargaining rights in their state workforce. Similarly, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour - a Washington corporate lobbyist turned governor - has pushed legislation to eliminate existing civil service protections so he can consolidate his political power. This, of course this says nothing of the Bush administration's aggressive efforts to limit the public's access to basic information, even spending taxpayer money on studies of how to hide more previously public information. The goals are clear: conservatives, desperate for dictatorial power, are waging a war on the very freedoms they purport to care so much about.
Two weeks ago on July 4th, our country celebrated the 230th birthday of our country. It was also the 40th birthday of the Freedom of Information Act - the law that ensures government transparency and protects the public's access to information. Yet in the new Internet age where information is supposed to be even more accessible than ever, that access is under assault at both the federal and state level by tyrannical politicians who would censor their opponents and persecute their state's workforce just to cling to power.
Thankfully, with the announcement of this new legislation, Kentucky is putting its foot down in defense of democracy. This is not Republican or Democratic legislation, it's not conservative or liberal legislation - it is legislation that will protect our freedoms and provide a model for every state in this great country to follow.