One of the few legislators with the courage to stick his neck out for open government in Wisconsin is likely to be leaving soon and that will be a loss for state government.
Racine Democrat state Rep. Cory Mason has announced he will run for mayor of his hometown in a special election this summer. If he wins, he'll be leaving the seat from which he kept pressure on his fellow legislators, putting them on record as to where they stood on open government. Needless to say, holding their feet to the fire has made many of his colleagues, including fellow Democrats, more than a bit uncomfortable.
Last week, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council gave its annual "Popee" award for political openness to Mason for introducing in each of his five terms in the Assembly a bill to require the Legislature itself do what the law requires of every other public body: Hold its meetings in public.
Mason has specifically targeted the Republican and Democratic caucuses' habit of meeting behind closed doors where, he explained in accepting the FOIC's tribute, the real decisions are made. It's in those closed meetings that legislators do their horse trading and make decisions that all other party members agree to support. Then the open sessions on the legislative floors are nothing more than a sideshow. The deals have been struck with lobbyists and special interests and only insiders are privvy to the real story.
The Racine legislator told the crowd at the annual watchdog dinner that his persistence on the issue has angered colleagues, but he has kept up the pressure in hopes that they will come to understand its importance to the people's confidence in the Legislature — a commodity that has been in short supply.
Mason's election as Racine mayor isn't a given, but he's made a name for himself in the city not for just openness causes, but because he has long been a champion of progressive legislation that puts the people, not special interests, in control of their governments.
If he does become mayor and leaves the Legislature, here's hoping someone will pick up the mantle and carry on.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and on Twitter @DaveZweifel
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