Empire Editorial: Silence and secrecy no more

  • Sunday, January 17, 2016 1:03am
  • Opinion

This newspaper once referred to Gov. Bill Walker as a rogue while endorsing his opponent, Sean Parnell, during the 2014 election. In recent weeks Walker has certainly proved us right.

Today, we’d like to thank him for that.

Walker told the Empire in late December 2015 he intended to release videos connected to the deaths of four inmates in custody of the Department of Corrections, one of which died at Lemon Creek Correctional Center.

The governor since has lived up to his word, releasing three of the videos so far.

These videos are not easy to watch, but that pales in comparison to when Walker met with the families of the deceased individuals and expressed his desire to make the videos public.

The tendency in Alaska politics leans toward disclosing as little as possible until a court mandates otherwise. It’s why media outlets typically band together to sue for access to documents (think Troopergate, National Guard scandal and the state’s Medicaid expansion review).

The deaths of these individuals without doubt tarnishes the image of Alaska’s prison system, but Walker decided not to withhold a recent report highlighting problems within DOC.

“I’ve heard from some folks that are uncomfortable, not families, but people in the system,” he told the Empire, referring to state employees who cautioned against releasing the videos. “But it made me uncomfortable watching the video, and we’re talking about a death, we’re talking about somebody who lost their life.”

Many of the abuses of power and negligence covered in the DOC report existed before Walker took office, but he was the first to expose them. And it didn’t take a lawsuit or threat of one.

“If we’re making mistakes, if our system is making mistakes — and it was — the light of day is the best way,” Walker told us “People will think differently when they’re making some decisions.”

The governor is right on both counts.

Yes, Walker is a rogue, but not the necessarily the type we thought Alaska was getting. While some in government prefer silence and secrecy, Walker is taking a different path

The truth is sometimes ugly, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable to witness, but in those situations it’s even more important the truth be told. Otherwise, these problems will fester instead of being fixed.

The governor understands this, and for this newspaper and for all Alaskans it means a change for the better.

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