Committed to transparent government

A recent editorial in The Alpena News implied I have been against transparency. That is wrong. I have been and remain a strong advocate for greater transparency and open government. I voted for legislation that would have done just that last year, and I have made it a top priority this year.

All across the country, people are calling for a better and more accessible government. They want leaders who are willing to put a stop to politics as usual and be more responsive to the communities they represent. They are demanding a government that puts the people first.

The Michigan House of Representatives is answering that call. During the campaign last fall, I went door to door all across the state to ask people what they wanted from their state government. From Escanaba to Morenci, from Muskegon to Alpena, I heard the same thing everywhere I went. We all want real, tangible accountability from our elected officials.

This is a top priority for both me and the people of Michigan. One of my first acts as the new Speaker of the House was to increase transparency by putting salary information for every House employee, including legislators, online. Anyone can now visit our website to see how their tax dollars are spent and how the House is using their hard-earned money.

But that was only the beginning. Recently, a bipartisan group of representatives introduced a plan to expand Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and create a new open records law specifically for the state Legislature. That group of legislators, including this community’s own representative, Sue Allor, are trying to make their own emails, meeting schedules and financial information available to all, because they believe it is well past time for state government to be more open and honest with the public.

This plan will give the people of Michigan access to new information, and it will make it cheaper and easier to find that information. This is a strong reform that puts people in control, not politicians.

On the day they introduced the bills, Allor and the other bill sponsors invited their colleagues to join them at a press conference. Almost 100 members of the House attended as a show of support, and I could not have been prouder to stand with them. We are all public servants, and the public is demanding more transparency. It is time for us to listen.

The reasoning here is simple — anyone who draws a paycheck from Michigan’s taxpayers should have to answer to them first. The decisions we make affect the lives of millions of people, and those people deserve to have a say in the work we do. They deserve to know what decisions we make and what actions we take on their behalf each and every day.

Opening up state government is not something that can be done overnight, and it is not something that can be done with a single vote. It will require a much bigger effort than that. But this is a good start, and this is an important reform that we should put into place right away. Even though this will be big change for us, this is simply the right thing to do.

Going forward, our challenge is to look for new ways to make government more accessible and give people greater power and a bigger say in the issues that impact them. I am committed to making this happen, and I ask everyone to hold us accountable over the next two years as we look for new ways to make it happen.

State Rep. Tom Leonard was first elected to serve Clinton and Gratiot counties in the Michigan House of Representatives in November 2012. In 2017, his colleagues elected him to serve as the new Speaker of the House.