The right to know nothing about your government

Hillary Clinton speaks about her private email server during a March news conference at the United Nations in New York. Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Hillary Clinton speaks about her private email server during a March news conference at the United Nations in New York. Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Cynthia: Paul LePage is so hostile to Maine’s Freedom of Access law, he’s ordered staff to run the bulk of state government business without writing anything down.

This might explain why his administration keeps missing major deadlines.

What little communication the governor does put in writing is scribbled on cards that are not copied or kept for public inspection.

Is intentionally flouting Maine’s right-to-know law a misdemeanor in office and grounds for impeachment, since the Constitution mandates he “shall take care the laws are faithfully executed?”

Mike: Nope. It’s a civil violation. Between having served on the Right to Know Committee and dealt with — and received props from — the press on records requests, I know the Freedom of Access Act all too well. But the lack of writing in the executive branch was a policy decision by the Legislature. The Right to Know Committee endorsed granting the governor the same “working papers” exemption enjoyed by lawmakers, but the Legislature voted it down.

There are some interesting questions raised by the handwritten cards, like the constitutional scope of executive privilege in Maine or how to delineate between personal and official correspondence. More fun with the courts! But I have to ask — if you’re going to assail Paul LePage on this, how do you let Ms. “Top Secret Secret Server” Clinton slide?

Cynthia: If our executive thinks aggressive and threatening messages written on government-issued stationary and delivered to librarians in Cape Elizabeth or board members at Good Will-Hinckley are “privileged,” the only interesting question is how much longer the Law Court will entertain such ridiculous legal arguments.

Talk about a solemn occasion — weighing what’s worse: the LePage administration shredding public records or intentionally concealing them. And this exercise isn’t cheap! These “civil violations” have cost Maine taxpayers millions and millions of dollars.

Secretary Clinton’s perfectly legal use of a private server cost taxpayers next to nothing, and the only reason she’s now accused by Republicans of communicating “secret” stuff is because she’s turned over the emails for inspection.

If Paul LePage doesn’t want things he writes as governor made public, he should wear a body camera. The National Zoo could stream him next to the Pandacam and take reality television to a whole new level.

Mike: Millions of dollars for FOAA-related issues? That math is as fuzzy as the pavement in Portland on these 90-degree days! Although, if you’re looking for reality television, why did the Legislature not support the governor’s effort to fund MPBN’s broadcasting of legislative debates? John Martin and Paul LePage teaming up — you can’t tell me that isn’t good TV.

Cynthia: The Appropriations Committee missed an opportunity to save money and create jobs by not funding the public broadcasting of what happens in Augusta. What we can’t read on paper (since it’s shredded or “missing”) we could catch on video, like who’s responsible for missing the deadline that led to the loss of $20 million at Riverview Psychiatric Center.

Bureaucrats could have been stars, but instead have to settle for a promotion at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Mike: Hey, reality TV stars seek promotions all the time — look at Mr. Trump. And records act violators do the same — see Clinton, Hillary. You can join her crusade claiming it is all a vast right-wing conspiracy, but the Congressional Research Service did a nice report in 2013 detailing the laws which govern classified information.

I’ll get right to the punchline. The secretary’s job included “ensuring that classified information is not communicated over unsecured…data circuits.” If you believe the press reports, she didn’t. To steal a phrase from a certain yet-to-announce candidate: this is a big ‘effing deal.

Cynthia: Everything Hillary Clinton does is a big ‘effing deal. She can’t eat at Chipotle without some “scandal” concocted about something.

At the time the Secretary lawfully and openly sent the emails now being scrutinized by those bent on defeating her, the information wasn’t classified. It’s become classified after the fact, and is being exploited.

Do tell me, Mike, how has Secretary Clinton’s lawful use of a private email server harmed the country more than the Secretaries of State before her who did the same thing?

Mike: I don’t know, since we don’t know what material they sent using private email. And if Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, or John Kerry run for president, I expect they will get the same scrutiny. If they did the same as Hillary Clinton, I hope they will be held responsible for their actions.

And you’re right — there is a level of stupidity when people try to invent Burrito-gate. But that doesn’t absolve her. If you are the Secretary of State or you want to be president, you can’t hide behind the “no one told me it was classified” curtain. She had the authority to classify information. What happened to Democrats announcing “the buck stops here?” I know this column started with a gripe about the Guv, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree that he takes responsibility for his decisions, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

Cynthia:  Clinton has turned over her server and all work-related emails, and is fully cooperating with authorities and the public seeking information. It’s impossible to be absolved of absolutely nothing.

The LePage administration blames “the feds” for missing a deadline that cost us $20 million and blames the right-to-know law for his lack of accountability.

I’m pretty sure we can all agree that’s passing the buck.