ImagesGovernor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently vetoed Assembly Bill 1393 (Leno-San Francisco), the measure sponsored by Californians Aware (CalAware) to make access to state government information far easier for those requesting it. AB 1393, as presented to the Governor, would have required every agency, board and commission in California’s executive branch that has a website to provide on its home page an HTML form allowing people to submit requests for documents that must be disclosed under the California Public Records Act (CPRA). It would also have called on Attorney General Jerry Brown to convene an expert study group to recommend which types of records should be routinely posted on state websites to spare citizens from having to ask for theim piecemeal. The bill reflected the results of a CalAware audit last year that found most state agencies failing the fundamentals of CPRA compliance—not producing clearly public records when asked (or at all) and meanwhile illegally demanding to know who was asking for them, for what purpose, etc.

When this depressing news was published the Governor issued an executive order that the appropriate agency staff be trained forthwith, but several months later a re-audit—requesting exactly the same information from the same agencies—found that the original passage rate of 37 percent had risen only to 70 percent. That was in August 2006. By the time AB 1393 reached his desk a year later you can imagine how the compliance rate would have eroded, owing to staff turnover and the normal clerical preoccupation with priorities other than providing the public with information on demand. So the Governor’s veto message—that the bill was unnecessary—implied that his one-time executive order of a year and a half earlier was all the correction that was needed; he had promptly acted and effectively solved whatever problem there was.

To suggest otherwise—and this is how the Governor must have interpreted AB 1393—was an affront to his vanity. He missed the chance to provide Californians with an inexpensive 21st century means of informing themselves about his administration, because to do so might concede that his executive penstroke had been inadequate to the reality of bureaucratic inertia. This is not the reaction of a strong man, but it is consistent with a career habit of checking one’s poses in the mirror.