Tag Archives: Jeb Bush

A Whiny Ex-Bureaucrat’s Take on Clinton E-Mail Gate, Sunshine Laws, and Public Disclosure


The Sun Going Down, But Not on Government

Who can possibly be against Sunshine and Transparency in government?  Some Hillary detractors think she is.  Same is being said about Jeb Bush and Scott Walker who handled their e-mails about the same way Hillary did. They have all been burnt by the insatiable appetite for disclosure of everything a public official says or does, 24/7. Like all others in public life, they’ve been victims of a good thing, pushed too far by zealots on both the left and right who think no amount of Sunshine is enough to keep government in check. Like the words from the John Denver song, Sunshine makes the watchdogs happy and high.

No violins for the beleaguered bureaucrat class here, but a little light from a whiny ex-bureaucrat who saw from the inside what too much Sunshine has done to government. That perspective gets no airing, just like the version of SAD, which no one hears about, where too much sunshine, not too little, makes it hard to function.

The most harmful effects of ever greater Sunshine are not on the careers of politicians and public employees – no one cares about them anyway — but how it inhibits the flow of information inside government; the way it makes (good) deals between allies and rivals alike harder to achieve; and (constructive) compromise more difficult to attain.

In Honor of Sunshine Week

In Honor of Sunshine Week

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws are of course generally good, very good. But they have side effects not clearly labeled on the kool-aid bottle; or on all the happy good government websites. (Here is one example).  In fact, we just had “Sunshine Week” (March 15-21) brought to you by Bloomberg, The Gridiron Club, and numerous press organizations. The “gridiron club”?

Sunshine and Public Disclosure laws, and their flag ship, The federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and all the little FOIAs, have done their job. Public workers have been censured or fired for appalling abuses and negligence. The most heart rending are in programs like nursing home, mental health, and child protective services, where negligence, cover-ups, and under-funding are life and death matters. All manners of corruption, inefficiency, and egregious waste inside government have been disclosed and prosecuted using the FOIAs.

That said, here are some other things about Sunshine run amuck that you hear very little about:

Hacks in both major political parties, and the “non partisan” fanatics who get tax exemptions from the IRS for improving “social welfare,” bombard governments and agencies hourly with requests (legally supported “demands” under FOIAs), for paper documents, e-mails, text messages, phone records, notes scribbled on pads, recordings, reports, photographs, you name it, in search of real or imagined abuses. These items may disclose some terrible wrong doings in government, but they are also the raw materials for scandal mongering and the life blood of opposition “research.”

Too many requests (demands) for information are unabashed fishing expeditions. Some are efforts to harass public workers so they can’t get their work done; so that anti-government zealots can prove bureaucrats don’t get their work done

Then there are the cranks, trouble-makers and malcontents (working inside governments) who find the public disclosure laws highly accommodating when they want to make life miserable for a boss or a colleague they happen to despise. These include the trolls who make digging for dirt and “whiste-blowing” a hobby and fetish. (Along with those who do it for the right reasons).

These are not the worst side effects of (too much) Sunshine. The most damaging are the chilling effects on information sharing and collaboration inside government; not just across political aisles, but also among workers “on the same side,” or not on any “side,” of an issue, just seeking the right or best answer.

Too much sunshine impairs deliberation, political deals and compromise (in the best senses). It gets in the way of candor, the unfettered search for solutions, the sharing of important information up and down the chain of an organization, or laterally.  Once you fully realize that (just about) anything you put in an e-mail may wind up on the front page of the newspaper or on the nightly news, or in a law suit (with or without merit), the chilling effect is huge.

Some real and imagined anecdotes: A skittish staffer who shuns e-mail fails to tell his Boss that the draft health care bill is unclear about who’s eligible for subsidies. A signal from a political rival’s staffer looking to make a deal never get’s transmitted. A governor or mayor is unprepared for a high stakes tax negotiation because the writer of the policy brief didn’t trust her paper was non-discloseable.

Bureaucrats need some cover when they’re trying to be honest with their bosses about the risks of a proposed policy; or when they float a balloon to an adversary in a delicate negotiation.

Sunshine laws have of course been a great tool for open and good government.  But even Sunshine comes at a price. Like for some miracle medications, there are ways to mitigate the worst side-effects.  Sunshine cast on the Sunshine laws would be a good start.


John Kasich is a Good Las Vegas Bet for 2016 Republican Ticket

The two big winners in the Republican presidential derby after the November 4th elections were Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Governor John Kasich of Ohio.
It’s easy to make predictions when they don’t have any consequences, and won’t be recalled if they turn out completely wrong, so here goes:

If I had to make an academic prediction today, I’d say Scott Walker will be the R’s standard bearer in 2016.  But John Kasich right now is a much better Las Vegas bet. He has longer odds than Walker (or any R candidate showing up in the Real Clear Politics polls), but also a huge (under-appreciated) upside. It’s all about seeking out the undervalued stocks.

If you prefer betting “win and place,” Kasich is an even better bet for one of the two spots on the R’s ticket in 2016.  If R’s nominate a hard right winger for the top spot, what’s better for them than a more moderate, charismatic Ohioan for veep?

After taming the public sector Unions in Wisconsin and beating back a “ground zero” recall election, Walker has stayed the course as a darling of the Republican base. He won a big victory this November in a blue state and has been careful not to harm his own Keystone Pipeline from Koch Industries to Madison. Kasich, on the other hand, after his resounding re-election in a purple swing state, hasn’t tried at all to hide his tilt to the center, which clinched his big win in Ohio.

Kasich’s brand of moderation was almost garishly on display at the recent Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) forum, featuring Kasich, along with Governors Walker, Spence, Perry, and Jindal. Only at a Republican gathering can something be both moderate and garish at the same time.

The RGA event, hosted by Meet the Press’ Chuck Todd, had the feel of a Republican primary debate. But it received very little coverage. Kasich stood out, positioning himself as a bridge builder (both metaphorically and in his maverick support for replenishing the Highway Trust Fund). It’s a big story, buried for now. But it won’t be for long, if Kasich repeats this act more often and at better venues.

If you watch the RGA forum, it’s clear that Kasich tried to put daylight between himself and the other Governors. He was already physically separated on the stage, ironically at the far right, but then kept turning sideways and leaning backward, placing him still further away from his brothers, and at a distinctly different angle.  Check out:  Kasich at RGA on C-span, and his comments on bi-partisan unity, amnesty, common core, and obamacare

Kasich has been amazingly invisible in the Republican polls. Yet he was a Tea Partier long before there was a Tea Party, and a Ryan-esque conservative budget guru long before anyone heard of Paul Ryan.

In the 1990s Kasich was a young star and first lieutenant in the Newt Gingrich revolution, chairing the House Budget Committee. Kasich was the real thing as budget sage, not just a master of buzz words, like Mr. Ryan. (Ryan causes Republican audiences to swoon when he refers to the “budget base” or says things like “carry forward” and “bow wave”).

If the Ohio Governor can convince a few powerful conservative king makers (with shekels) that his new brand of moderation (which went over real big in the beast of all swing states, Ohio), can do well with swing voters, Latinos, and disillusioned Obama supporters, while being tolerated by the Party’s base, he has a great chance. Yes, I know, that’s a big IF. Kasich has some of the same inconvenient attributes for an R primary as Christie, but Kasich is a mid western good ole’ boy out of a Norman Rockwell painting, and he’s not obnoxious.

The resume seems perfect: Budget Czar of the first Republican Revolution, resoundingly popular Governor in the king of swing states, a solid record of spending and tax cuts and real regulatory reform in Ohio, joined with good economic results there (whether or not that had anything to do with the policy reforms).

But here is the rub: At the RGA forum, and elsewhere, he’s taken nuanced positions on
Obama Immigration Policy, Common Core Education Standards, and Obamacare’s Medicaid Expansion. Even a hint of any one of those is usually enough to doom a Republican’s presidential aspirations.

But if R’s want a real chance to win, the king-making donors might be persuaded that a smart, authentic, humorous, popular Ohio Governor beats the bland (Walker) guy from Wisconsin, Florida’s Bush,  who is further to the left on immigration and common core, the fringy and goofy retreads from 2008 and 2012, and the flip flopper in chief (the “severe conservative”) who the R’s nominated in 2012, then Kasich is a really interesting bet. Think about it, if you happen to be visiting Las Vegas over the holidays.