The Villages Daily Sun Sunshine Sunday editorial

Open records help ensure an open political process

Trying to separate the unvarnished truth from the spin that is filling the airwaves during this presidential election season?
Perhaps it’s time to become proactive and undertake your own search for the facts about the respective candidates’ stands on the issues that are important to you.
That search may include doing something as mundane as digging through public records to draw back the curtain on positions the candidates have taken or pronouncements they have made during pasts spent in the public eye.
A series of debates has been held featuring the possible Republican challengers to incumbent Democrat Barack Obama. These debates, unfortunately, have done little to present an understanding of where these candidates stand on the major issues of interest to potential voters.
It is imperative, therefore, that prospective voters take the initiative and take advantage of their access to every record they can find that reveals where the current candidates for the presidency have stood on the critical issues in the past.
A wealth of information is available online from various sources ranging from the websites of newspapers, magazines and other mass-circulation publications to those of a host of federal and state agencies.
Not computer savvy or feel like you aren’t finding all of the information you think you should? Fortunately for you, the tri-county area is home to some excellent public library systems.
You can always visit the nearest branch of your county library system, where a friendly librarian will be available to help you ferret out documents that will help you focus your search and bring your quest for the truth to a successful conclusion.
Having access to records of the candidates’ past words and deeds is a good way to find indicators of where they stand today. Some of them may claim that they have changed their mind or position on a particular issue in the interim. It is up to you, as a prospective voter, to decide if those claims ring true.
This is especially important when the candidates spend most of their time in the public forum, not addressing the issues but accusing each other of taking all manner of unpopular actions or making all manner of unpopular statements.
In a time-honored tradition, especially when all else fails, politicians will resort to the tactic of twisting their opponents’ positions or statements on a particular issue, taking them out of context, or playing fast and loose with the facts to put themselves in a positive light or to portray their adversary in a negative one.
Even when the candidates in a political contest decide to maintain a certain level of decorum and refrain from slinging mud and barbs at each other, we as voters can ill afford to accept every statement made by a candidate at face value.
In any political campaign, the impetus falls to the voters to separate truth from fiction, to make sure that no statement by a candidate for elected office goes unchallenged.
That is why it is so important to have strong open records/open meetings laws such as those on the books in Florida, and that is why it is so important for voters and their elected representatives to resist efforts to water down those measures.
That is also why each year during Sunshine Week, the Florida Society of News Editors encourages its members, including the Daily Sun, to participate in activities and publish news and opinion articles that increase awareness of the need to maintain open public records and open meetings of bodies that conduct the public’s business.
Because it is not only the news media that benefit from open records/open meetings laws, but everyone who wants transparent, honest government in the sunshine.