Our View: Kempthorne shares blame with state law

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman


Dirk Kempthorne is lurching toward releasing papers from his seven-year tenure as governor – a mere 27 months after leaving office.

No one can accuse the governor-turned-interior secretary of rushing into this one.

The problem rests not just with Kempthorne, but with state law. Idaho code contains no guidelines and sets no deadlines for the release of the archives.

As a result, Kempthorne and the Idaho State Historical Society have been engaged in a protracted public records Kabuki dance that might result in the release of some 500 boxes of gubernatorial records by September. The two sides have been meeting over the past month. As society Executive Director Janet Gallimore describes it, “We’re just working out the details now.”

Gallimore may feel obliged to put the best face on this mess. We’ll take a detached, dimmer view. It is inexcusable that Kempthorne has dragged his feet for so long – thwarting people from seeing records of his public service. The archives have been available for public viewing only with Kempthorne’s approval. The Historical Society has routinely turned down records requests, since it doesn’t have the documents.

This cloak-and-dagger policy includes equal parts paranoia and entitlement. We’re not sure why Kempthorne is trying to keep people away from the archives, but he doesn’t have the right. These may be Kempthorne’s records, but this phrase describes authorship, not ownership. The records belong to all Idahoans, although Kempthorne’s behavior would have you think otherwise.

State law requires the release of records – but the law is open-ended, and the timetable is subject to the whims of a former governor. Kempthorne’s successor, Jim Risch, promptly released his papers – although, in fairness to Kempthorne, Risch had only seven months’ worth of papers to release.

There’s nothing wrong with putting a deadline in the law; the state’s public records law has guidelines in place. A government agency has three working days to decide whether a requested document falls under the public records law, and then has 10 working days to make it available. The agency’s obligations are clear – and the process is predictable for the business person, concerned citizen or journalist seeking a record.

We don’t expect a former governor to turn over years of paperwork within 10 days.

However, we also don’t believe a former governor has any good reason to sit on records for more than two years. Somewhere in between, a reasonable timeframe can be found – and it can be incorporated into state law.

“Our View” is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman’s editorial board. To comment on an editorial or suggest a topic, e-mail editorial@idahostatesman.com.

Editorial from the Idaho Statesman

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