I hereby nominate Associated Press Kansas statehouse reporter John Hanna for reporter of the year. His nomination comes not as a result of anything he’s written exactly, but by virtue of the quiet dignity he brings the profession and, well, this great thing he did the other day.
He happened to pass a closed door in the statehouse the other day and noticed through the window that the governor’s budget director was meeting with 27 Republican lawmakers. So he walked in, crossed his arms and waited. One lawmaker told him to get out, that he wasn’t invited. He stood his ground until the state’s budget committee chairman said he could stay.
From the story about the incident in The National Journal:
… In doing so, he learned that (the governor) was threatening to lay off prison guards, cut aid to public schools and reduce payments to health care providers and nursing homes if legislators didn’t agree to increase taxes. This is information the public needed to know in time to influence the debate — and to better understand the impact of (Gov. Sam) Brownback’s short-sighted decisions. …
The story points out that Hanna didn’t go to war over access. There were no strongly worded letters. He didn’t get snarky on social media. No one sued. A good reporter just refused to be locked out by a closed door, and simply asked that the public’s business be done in public. To the story again:
“This is no big protest on my part,” he said. “My thinking is, just because they tell you a meeting is private doesn’t mean you have to leave.” I asked Hanna what he would have done had Sullivan insisted that he go. “I can’t say where something like that would have played out, because it didn’t happen.”
That is a terrific lesson for all of us. If lawmakers meet, assume it’s public. If they gather before the official meeting, if they huddle afterward in the hall, insinuate yourself. Make someone tell you to leave. Make someone justify an impromptu closed meeting. Sometimes they are loathe to do so simply because they know it’s wrong.