A few days before Christmas, GBH radio host Jim Braude said he had two questions for Governor-elect Maura Healey.
First, would she break with past governors who claimed they are exempt from the state’s public records law? And second, would she support legislation trimming back exemptions that the state Legislature and judiciary claim?
“Yes, yes,” Healey replied.
“Well,” Braude said, “that takes care of that.”
As her quick answer may have betrayed, her commitment to transparency seems less than ironclad.
Massachusetts is the only state in the country where the governor, the state Legislature, and the judiciary have all claimed exemptions from public records law.
And their stonewalling has made it far too difficult for the press, watchdog groups, and ordinary citizens to understand how policy is made and how justice is meted out here.
To justify that stonewalling, governors have pointed to a 1997 decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, known as Lambert v. Executive Director of the Judicial Nominating Council, which found that, because the public records law does not specifically name the governor’s office, the state Legislature, and the judiciary, they are exempt.
Transparency advocates have long criticized the court’s ruling.
And they have called on governors, Democratic and Republican, to voluntarily open their offices to scrutiny.
Healey gets credit for signaling a break from her predecessors.
But as Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, fairly points out, “she hasn’t provided any details, she hasn’t shared with us any steps that she’s going to take to make that a reality,” and “until she does, until she puts more action into those words, it’s just a promise unfulfilled.”
Last month, Silverman’s First Amendment Coalition, the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, and the New England Newspaper & Press Association wrote a letter to Healey asking her to put some muscle behind her pledge.
The groups wanted the governor, immediately after taking office, to issue an executive order subjecting her office to the public records law. They wanted her to appoint a public records officer, too. And they are calling on her to file and support legislation clarifying that the public records law applies to the governor’s office.
The editorial board put all this to the governor’s office and asked if she’d also file and support legislation making it clear that the state Legislature and judiciary are subject to public records law. We got a broad statement in reply: “Governor Healey has been clear that her office intends to comply with the public records law and provide more transparency to the governor’s office than ever before,” said spokeswoman Jillian Fennimore.
Healey doesn’t seem poised to press lawmakers on the question; her office has indicated it will review any legislation that comes its way. And it will evaluate any public records requests that come to the office on a case-by-case basis — a standard that seems to leave room for dodging uncomfortable requests.
The administration, in fairness, is young. It may take some time to figure out how to handle the kind of requests that previous governors brushed aside.
But anything less than fulfillment of the sort of public records requests that are routine in virtually every other state won’t do.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.