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Editor’s Note | Sunshine Week Warning: Government Secrecy Leads to Mississippi Brain Drain

We hear so much hand-wringing in Mississippi about why so many people who grew up here leave the state and take their talents and initiative with them. But what we don’t talk about nearly enough is government secrecy.

I’ve been thinking all week—between fundraising and editing and board prep, oh my—about Sunshine Week, an annual and needed tradition in journalism to bring attention to the lack of transparency in government. I knew I needed to address it here, but dang, where do I start in this state filled with secrecy, behind-closed-doors deals and a Legislature that won’t even declare itself a public entity subject to open-meetings laws?

My answer came from watching the Capitol reeking with shenanigans this session to bring back the public initiative process that its buddies at the Mississippi Supreme Court halted after a vote some didn’t exactly agree with. Lawmakers want to bring it back, but they can’t allow Mississippians to force a public reckoning on a policy like abortion rights, which a bipartisan voting bloc defeated in 2011. (At least one party understands the potential political impact of the Personhood defeat here.)

So legislators talk among themselves a lot about the gamesmanship of looking like they’re supporting transparency and the public’s right to both know and decide, and then they pretty much do what the majority party wants to anyway. It’s power protection at best, and yes this putrid approach to state “democracy” runs off smart young people in droves, and not just those who might vote in one way or another.

Legislature a ‘Public Body’ Or No?

You probably know that reporter Nick Judin and I decided to challenge former House Speaker Philip Gunn’s propensity to bring his chamber’s Republicans—also the House majority—into secret caucus meetings not open to the public and journalists to apparently decide how they would vote in a bloc. This meant that any debate and discussion of policymaking for House was outside public view. I told Nick to show up for one and likely get kicked out, which happened, so we could challenge it in court.

Our challenge drew a

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