Massachusetts Could Become the Only State Whose Governor’s Records Aren’t Open

A dubious distinction for the Bay State.

Photo via Governor's Office/Alastair Pike

Photo via Governor’s Office/Alastair Pike

Massachusetts leads the nation in all manner of things, from the best universities to the most cutting-edge hospitals. But there’s one area where the Bay State has lagged embarrassingly far behind.

The Michigan House of Representatives voted unanimously Thursday to make its governor and legislature subject to public records requests, after the state ranked dead-last for transparency in the Center for Public Integrity’s rankings. “We shouldn’t be satisfied that 48 other states have figured out how to make transparency work,” state Rep. Jeremy Moss told the Detroit Free Press.

The 10-bill package will move to the Michigan Senate for consideration. If passed, Massachusetts would become the only remaining state where the governor’s office claims exemption from public records requests.

Oh sure, enterprising reporters like Todd Wallack of the Globe‘s Spotlight team have tried to get their hands on Gov. Charlie Bakers’ public records, but the state Supervisor of Records has ruled they’re off-limits.

Baker’s office has argued it is “not one of the instrumentalities enumerated” by the public records law, adding “it is the voluntary practice of the Office to consider and respond to public records requests on a case-by-case basis.”

“We obey all the laws associated with public requests, public information requests, public records requests and we always will,” Baker in a 2015 radio interview. “We are not required under public records law to submit [text messages] as a public record.”

Baker has repeatedly pointed to Lambert v. Judicial Nominating Council, a 1997 Supreme Judicial Court decision that ruled that because the governor was not explicitly mentioned in the public records law, he or she is exempt. Both Baker and his predecessor Deval Patrick have interpreted this ruling to exempt the entire Governor’s Office.

The long-overdue reforms that Baker signed last year did create a commission aimed at examining the feasibility of subjecting the Governor’s Office, as well as the Legislature and the judicial branch, to the public records law. Until anything comes of that, Massachusetts will just have to settle for last place.