Mike Rounds’ honeymoon is over.
He’s known all along that running for Senate will mean facing criticism for some of the things he did — and defended — as governor. One of Rounds’ weaknesses is open government, something he’s always been leery about.
This morning, the conservative news site The Daily Caller reported on Rounds denying
their a Democratic group’s records request for some of the former governor’s personal correspondence.
After Rounds denied their request for information about the governor’s mansion construction, the Capitol renovation, the Homestake lab, inmate files and other governor’s office reports, Daily Caller reporter Alexis Levinson summarized the state of South Dakota’s open records laws, and the role Rounds played in keeping them from being more open.
The Argus Leader has covered these issues extensively over the years — Levinson’s article relies heavily on past Argus Leader reporting for her context.
But this issue illustrates the different world a U.S. Senate campaign is compared to a gubernatorial campaign. South Dakotans may not have cared very much when the Argus Leader reported on how limited our state’s open records laws are. But nationally, most states and the federal government make FAR more information available to the public than does South Dakota. The law letting Mike Rounds keep his official correspondence private may seem normal to some South Dakotans, but to outsiders it looks like he’s being secretive and hiding things.
Even under Gov. Dennis Daugaard, Rounds’ successor (and ally) who is much more favorable to open government, it’s been a very slow slog expanding open government laws in South Dakota. A commission convened by Daugaard and Attorney General Marty Jackley proposed eight new laws last year. Half of them — including some of the most significant, such as a bill opening up police mug shots to the public as they are in almost every other state — were defeated in the Legislature despite backing from Daugaard and Jackley.
So welcome to South Dakota, national reporters. It’s a whole new world here.
(Note: I misread the original Daily Caller article about who filed the open records request Rounds rejected — it was a Democratic group, not the Daily Caller. Fixed — though it’s worth noting that the point of open records laws is that anyone can use them, from the press to your bitterest enemies. The information is free regardless of what purposes people intend it for.)