TACOMA—Journalists in Washington basically take the state’s Public Records Act for granted. We use it constantly and don’t like to think about a time when it wasn’t around.
But that dark time did exist — and it was called 1972.
For a story I’m working on right now, I got to researching the history of the state’s open records laws. And I found myself reading a scanned copy of the 1972 voter pamphlet statements for and against Initiative 276, which required public agencies to make their records available for inspection and copying.
Discovery No. 1: There was a thing called a Tacoma Republican back in 1972.
Discovery No. 2: Clearly, not everyone was as happy with the public-records measure as we journalists are today.
Opponents of Initiative 276 billed it as “well-intentioned but certainly over-enthusiastic legislation.” They argued the measure would cost agencies too much money, and would “definitely destroy incentive for anyone to run and serve in low-paying part-time public offices.”
“Every office holder and candidate will be subjected to countless hours of useless record-keeping — thousands of hours of wasted time — merely to fill more filing cabinets in Olympia,” wrote then-state Sen. Charles E. Newschwander and then-state Rep. James P. Kuehnle, who drafted the statement against the initiative.
Newschwander was a Republican lawmaker from Tacoma (those existed back in the 1970s, unlike today) and Kuehnle was a Republican from the Spokane area.
The two legislators also wrote the initiative “threatens individual privacy” and “tries to cleanse all evils of our political process by limiting campaign expenditures and requiring disclosure of campaign and lobbying expenditures.”
I-276 also required political candidates to produce detailed reports of campaign contributions and spending, made lobbyists disclose and itemize their expenditures, and established a state Public Disclosure Commission.
It passed with the support of 72 percent of voters.
Thanks to Toby Nixon of the state Coalition for Open Government for sending me the scan of the original voter pamphlet.