“Transparency hawk” is a pretty cool title—like a superhero name, but for an elected official who goes above and beyond the call of duty in the fight to ensure our government is truly accountable to the people. Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, despite using that term to describe himself…does not do that.
In fact, Shirkey refuses to do even the bare minimum when it comes to transparency reform. He’s happy to paint himself as a champion of transparency and accountability, because he knows those words sound good to people, but shows little to no willingness to actually be transparent or accountable himself.
Over the past few years, two areas of reform that could go a long way toward improving transparency in our state have emerged with significant bipartisan support. One package of bills—already passed unanimously in the House—would expand our open records laws to cover the state legislature and governor’s office, while the other would require elected officials to disclose their personal finances.
A quick crash course on open records laws: The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that allows any citizen to request documents most public officials—state agencies, school boards, local governments, etc. FOIA is how the public learned the truth behind the Flint Water Crisis, the Aramark scandal, and former AG Bill Schuette’s shady practices, but the law has one major hole: The state legislature and governor’s office are exempt.
The package of bills the House has passed (twice, now!) falls short of full FOIA expansion, but would improve transparency in Michigan. It includes generous (arguably too generous) exceptions for constituent communications and lets legislators appoint an administrator to oversee appeals for records requests, and it passed with the full support of the Republican caucus.
There’s good reason to believe the bills could pass easily in the Senate as well, since records show a majority of our state senators have supported FOIA expansion in the past—but despite being referred to a Senate committee more than a month ago, they haven’t moved. Considering Shirkey has declined to support these crucial reforms, it’s a pretty safe bet he has something to do with that.
Shirkey also stands firmly on the wrong side when it comes to financial disclosure. To be clear, the bipartisan laws currently on the table are not in any way about shaming or criticizing legislators for the state of their finances or the source of their income—they’re simply a way to make sure our elected officials aren’t voting on issues where they have a clear conflict of interest.
So, Transparency Hawk Mike Shirkey™ must support these common-sense laws that are already on the books in 48 out of 50 states, right? In his own words, “absolutely not,” on the grounds that requiring financial disclosure would make it too hard to recruit “good candidates”—whatever that means.
Shirkey’s opposition to real accountability is bad enough on its own—but for him to stand in the way of reforms nearly everyone, even members of his own party, support while continuing to insist he’s pro-transparency is insulting. The people of Michigan deserve leaders who really are “transparency hawks,” but on the issue of transparency Mike Shirkey is nothing more than chicken little.