by Gwen Moritz
Posted 4/8/2013 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
My “recent unpleasantness” — that’s my euphemism for the fallout from my boneheaded stunt of releasing publicly the last legally acquired list of the state’s concealed-carry licensees — has reinforced my disdain for people who operate in the shadow of anonymity.
I’m talking about the hundreds — maybe thousands, who can tell? — of people who set up oh-so-clever email account names so that they could insult me, sometimes in terms that I had never even heard when I was a co-ed at Harding. (I hope you never have to hear your child say, “Mom, don’t Google yourself.”)
But the problem of anonymity in public discourse is far, far bigger than cowards who compartmentalize their bad behavior by pretending that anonymity is the same as innocence. Our government is becoming more secretive all the time.
Voice votes in the Legislature are bad enough. Last week, the Senate State Agencies & Governmental Affairs Committee gave a do-pass to what I consider a very bad bill, SB900, which would allow the Legislature set the maximum interest rate in Arkansas, overruling the 17 percent cap that voters adopted in modernizing the usury limit two years ago. It’s a Trojan horse for payday lenders who ran roughshod over the state for 10 years until the Supreme Court finally ran out of ways to avoid the obvious ruling that their “fees” were actually usurious interest. Hell hath no fury like an industry that feels entitled to operate in defiance of the clear will of the people.
But there’s no official record of which committee members gave their blessing to this bill because the vote was a voice vote. No roll call taken.
This is just one vote on one issue that makes my blood boil. Voice votes are incredibly common in the Arkansas General Assembly. Why? You know why.
Until the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act gets neutered even more than it already has been, we can still know which legislators sponsor particular bills. (In the case of SB900, it was Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale.) I’d like to see a law passed that requires the people who write bills — and those who pay to have them written — to use bylines like we use in most everything we publish in Arkansas Business. (If there isn’t a byline, as has been the tradition with our wildly popular Whispers column, you can just go ahead and hold me responsible.) Think that would pass, even on an anonymous voice vote?
A couple of years ago, National Public Radio’s “On the Media” program set out to determine which one — one — member of Congress had blocked the certain approval of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act by using what is known as a “secret hold.” Is that democracy — one elected official allowed to hold up legislation without even having to admit to the deed? Anonymity is the enemy of good government.
And just last month, some member of Congress slipped a little item that’s being called the “Monsanto Protection Amendment” into the short-term funding bill necessary to keep the federal government from shutting down. Now, I don’t know enough about this amendment, which concerns regulation of genetically modified plants, to know whether it’s truly as egregious as some people claim it is. That’s a different issue entirely. What is egregious is the fact that the amendment was put into the spending bill anonymously. (Missouri Republican Roy Blount eventually claimed authorship of it.)
I know some of you politicos are shaking your heads at just how naïve I am, but I can’t help thinking that we would get better laws if everyone had to put their names on everything they did and be ready to defend their actions.
During the unpleasantness, I received emails from quite a few people who used their real names. Some of them were very unhappy with me — others were very happy with me — but hardly any used profanity, insulted my parentage or wished death on me and my family.
One of them, using his full name, called me an idiot and a “typical liberal.” I responded by saying that I would accept his comments in the spirit in which they were intended.
A couple of days later, he sent me this message:
“Given time to sit back and ponder my email to you, I have prayed about it and asked the Lord to please forgive me for my hateful words to you. Though I do not agree with what you did, I do not have the right to be judgmental or call names. I hope you can forgive me and I wish you all the best.”
Anonymity brings out the worst in the human character. Human interaction brings out the best.
Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.