In the news

The Oregonian


Janie Har


Saying that muckraking isn't a partisan issue, an unlikely quartet of legislators has latched onto a modern-day way to open up the state's books: by searchable database.
The aim of House Bill 2500 is to create a one-stop Web site that shows how much Oregon agencies spend and on what.

But more intriguing than the policy may be the people behind the bill.

Republicans Kim Thatcher of Keizer and Gene Whisnant of Sunriver have testified shoulder to shoulder with Democrats Jefferson Smith of Portland and Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay.

On Wednesday, after unanimous approval by the House, they sent out a joint news release.

"This is an example of, if you have a good idea and you listen to both sides, good things can happen," Whisnant said.

If the Senate goes along with the proposal, Oregon would join roughly two dozen states and the federal government in making such information available to the public.

The state already posts public contracts, employee salaries, audits and other data online. But the information is scattered and buried inside pages and thick PDF files.

"And it's quite a mystery, really, as to where our money is being spent and why," Thatcher said.

The database won't make all of state government instantly transparent.

The information available will be limited to what is already out there, because agencies don't want to spend money generating new kinds of data. The state will have to set up a new database with tables that mean something to people beyond the data nerds.

Dave Rosenfeld, executive director of the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, said other states have put up solid sites and at little cost. The federal government, he said, has a great template that is easy to copy.

"A lot of this is just a public faith issue," he said.

Whisnant said then-Republican Rep. Linda Flores of Clackamas came up with the idea before she lost her re-election bid last year. Smith, a freshman, reached out to the Republicans, Whisnant said.

The term "goo goo" was a derisive nickname given to advocates of transparent government at the turn of the 20th century, Smith said on the floor.

Today, he went on, they should look at it as a badge of courage. Then he wrapped up his pitch with this:

"I'm a goo goo, they're goo goos. I urge you to be an aye vote and be a goo goo, too."


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