Cowboy State Daily Editorial
Wyoming is heading into a historic special legislative session in a week. And the public needs to have someone in the Capitol to watch that history being made.
Wyoming’s Legislature will convene for a special session May 15, primarily to determine how to spend $1.25 billion in federal funds — taxpayer dollars — awarded the state as part of the coronavirus relief program.
In the interest of safety, most of the state’s lawmakers will take part in the session through a video meeting application. A few legislators will be at the Capitol in Cheyenne to conduct business in what has been called the “people’s house.”
But the people for whom the building is nicknamed, in another historic development, won’t be allowed to watch their elected officials in person. Legislative leaders have decided only lawmakers and select staff will be allowed in the building. The public will be able to watch the proceedings online.
But the public needs someone in that building watching the proceedings that aren’t broadcast, the hallway meetings that will inevitably take place, the conference room negotiations that determine the fate of important legislation.
In short, reporters, the eyes and ears of the public, need to be allowed into the Capitol to watch this special session.
For centuries, reporters have been the “watchdogs for democracy,” paying attention to those who handle the public’s funds and wield great authority to manage governments on the public’s behalf.
With more than $1 billion in taxpayer money on the line, it is important, now more than ever, that reporters continue to do that job.
With all due respect for the interests of safety, it must be noted that since journalism has existed, reporters have been putting themselves in harm’s way to make sure the public has a clear idea of what is going on. Wars, riots, civil upheaval, floods, earthquakes, bombings — reporters will always be found in the thick of it.
The historic nature of next week’s special session makes it imperative that Wyoming’s reporters be found there, too.
Reporters stand ready to abide by any social distancing guidelines that may be placed upon them in exchange for access to the Capitol. But access must be given if the public is to know what is happening in its house.
Perhaps James Madison put it best: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”