GOP, American and Christian Values: Open Government

secrecyIn this continuing series which examines a number of “controversial” issues in light of Republican values, American values, and Christian values, we now turn to the subject of open government. Previously we have examined illegal immigration, limited government, and marriage and family.

The term “open government” typically describes a doctrine that says citizens have a right to know what their government is doing, for the purpose of oversight of those activities.

Republican Values

Ted Cruz 2016

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The last published South Dakota GOP platform states the following concerning open and transparent government:

The South Dakota Republican Party believes the free flow of information empowers and energizes a republic and serves to keep the process of government honest and robust.

Most of us are aware that legislation sometimes gets introduced or even passed that is deceptive about its aims and intent.   After all, ObamaCare, which would crush the freedom of Americans and drive up health care costs even more, is officially known by the Orwellian title of “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”  Legislation can also have unintended consequences which must be considered.

However, most legislation is fairly straightforward and be supported or opposed on its face value. For that legislation which has unpleasant unintended consequences, lawmakers can add amendments to correct or fix problem areas of a bill. A bill does not need to be scuttled simply because of one bad aspect.  Too often, lawmakers hide behind such objections because they really don’t want to support the bill in the first place.  If the bill is truly good but has problems, lawmakers should amend it and make it a good bill, rather than shoot it down. If a lawmaker doesn’t want to go to the trouble to tidy up a good bill, then they can explain their actions to the voters–but the voters should know.

Woodrow Wilcox

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We have long grown used to Democrats trying to hide their voting records.  Voter guides that highlight a politician’s voting record have long been useful to conservatives in revealing the truth behind what liberals tell us about themselves and their record.

Lately, however, it seems many “Republicans” aren’t too keen on having their voting record revealed. While it would seem they were just fine with publishing voting records so long as Democrat immorality was exposed, the tune suddenly changed when Republicans began to be exposed for their liberal voting record.

Some have even fought efforts to make the South Dakota Legislature website more user-friendly so the taxpayers can find out how their elected representatives have voted across a wide range of issues. The changes sought in the website would not require a major or complicated amount of work, yet certain “Republicans” have repeatedly shot down efforts to bring more transparency to the legislative process.

South Dakota has been identified in recent years as deficient with regard to open government.  Since Republicans have won the last seven gubernatorial elections, and have had control of the legislature for almost all of the past 30 years, the GOP cannot escape culpability for this state of affairs–especially given recent events.

What does this say about “Republicans”?  What does this say about their commitment to transparency? Actions should match words.

American Values

Our founding document, the Declaration of Independence, makes it clear that good governments “deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  The governed cannot give their consent if they are not informed as to what their government is doing. One might even say that most of the reasons articulated in our founding document for establishing our own government stemmed from a government mindset that lacked openness and transparency.

The United States Constitution makes clear at the beginning that the document and the government it established was a product of “we the people,” not “you our rulers.”

Thomas Jefferson said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”  A nation cannot fight ignorance and be informed if there is not transparency in their government. If the people are not informed through an open government, despotism and tyranny are just around the corner.

Jefferson also said, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

Samuel Adams said, “No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffusd and Virtue is preservd. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauchd in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”

John Adams said, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right, from the frame of their nature, to knowledge, as their great Creator, who does nothing in vain, has given them understandings, and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge; I mean, of the characters and conduct of their rulers.”

Federalist No. 57 says, “If it be asked what is to restrain the House of Representatives from making legal discriminations in favor of themselves and a particular class of the society? I answer, the genius of the whole system, the nature of just and constitutional laws, and above all the vigilant and manly spirit which actuates the people of America, a spirit which nourishes freedom, and in return is nourished by it.”

Transparent, open government is clearly a cornerstone of American government.

Christian Values

The Bible says a number of things about good and bad government, among them:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (Proverbs 29:2)

When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue. (Proverbs 28:2)

A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor, but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days. (Proverbs 28:16)

Another important passage comes from the New Testament in Romans 13:1-7:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Here we clearly see that government is under the authority of God, and has his delegated authority to accomplish good (justice, protecting the people from foreign and domestic threats, etc.). We also see that the people have a duty to obey government so long as it does not conflict with what is right, and we are to render what is due to the government, including the taxes necessary to operate the government that exists for our welfare.

In America, since we have a government that comes not from the rulership of a king or emperor or oligarchy but from the people themselves, we have other obligations to our government.

God has been very good to us in the United States. We have a government of “we the people,” a government founded on the consent of the governed. As the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

We cannot know whether those we are choosing and have chosen to lead our country are behaving in accordance with Christian principles if we cannot clearly see their governmental actions.

The Bible says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” which means every human being has a fallen nature, predisposed toward sin.

The founders of our nation realized this, which is why they set up our government with checks and balances, with division of power, to protect the people from the despotism of fallen men with too much power.   But these checks and divisions do little good if the people cannot see when they are transgressed, which is why transparency in government is so important, and why it is so important that the people know precisely what their leaders are doing on their behalf.

Obviously, honest and open government is a Christian value.


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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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