McKenna off to good start

Opinion by The Olympian


Olympia, WA - It's nice to see an elected official matching his campaign rhetoric with action. Rob McKenna, 42, was sworn in earlier this week as state attorney general, and he's off to a good start.

On the campaign trail last fall, McKenna said he would be a strong advocate for the public's right to know. McKenna pledged to reverse a trend of secrecy that had clouded the office of his predecessor, Christine Gregoire. She often championed open meetings and easy access to public records, but the actions her office took were often contrary to the public's right to know.

Republican McKenna, a member of the King County Council when he launched his AG bid last year, soundly defeated Democratic hopeful Deborah Senn by a margin of 53 percent to 43 percent in the Nov. 2 general election.

A key campaign pledge was to open public records for public inspection and help pry open the doors of closed public meetings. He also pledged to help law enforcement officers crack down on meth labs and identity theft, bolster the consumer protection division of the AG's office and work toward liability reform to ease the financial impact for state taxpayers. It was an ambitious agenda that focused on consumer priorities.

Even before taking office, McKenna announced that he will dedicate a staff position to the enforcement of the state's Open Public Records Act and Open Public Meetings Act. He appointed well-known Olympia attorney Greg Overstreet to the position.

That's great news for state residents.

Overstreet has earned a reputation as a straight shooter and consumer advocate in legal challenges to open state records to public inspection.

Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said: "The same sort of zeal that Greg has brought to his private practice, I think, will be focused on making state agencies follow the spirit of the open government statutes. As the instrument of McKenna's bedrock commitment to making the state agencies openly accountable for their expenditures and actions, Greg Overstreet will always be an active advocate for the people of the state."

McKenna recently told a Seattle audience that in addition to being a public disclosure watchdog, Overstreet will work with state agencies to help officials there understand the law. Overstreet also will educate agency officials on how to comply with the law.

One of the first orders of business for McKenna and Overstreet should be to craft a bill to upend a 5-4 state Supreme Court decision last spring that allows agencies to keep records out of the hands of the public based on attorney-client privilege. The public's right to know should override that privilege.

Once a bill is introduced and passed, McKenna can turn to the other planks on his campaign platform. He has pledged to be the consumers' advocate on Internet fraud and identity theft. He also has pledged to help local prosecutors crack down on methamphetamine laboratories.

Supervising about 500 attorneys, who act as lawyers for state agencies, offering legal advice and defending the agencies when they are sued, is a huge undertaking.

But Rob McKenna is making good on his campaign promise to make open records and open meetings a top priority.



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