“Transparency” has become a buzzword of corporate titans, university presidents and politicians of every stripe, but like many such broad descriptors, it has become a shibboleth for something that means the opposite.
It’s the wink and nod code to say, “we’ll tell you when we want to but not if we don’t.” The University of Kentucky denied its student newspaper information about a sexual harassment case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals before losing. Attorney General Andy Beshear, who’s running for governor, refused to divulge his clients at the law firm he worked at before running.
And today the star of the “transparency” charade is none other than Gov. Matt Bevin, who took 67 out-of-state trips in 2016 and 2017 on state aircraft, according to reporter Daniel Desrochers. They cost about $377,000 and about half were reimbursed by Bevin, the state Republican party, the Republican Governor’s Association or by Bevin’s campaign. The others were paid by Kentucky taxpayers, but when Desrochers asked for information about where Bevin was headed, his office declined to answer, using the catchall phrase “security.” How could security be an issue when the trip has already taken place?
Bevin has often been compared to President Donald Trump and uses state planes to make sure he’s seen often in Trump’s company. I think Bevin is smarter and more disciplined than our Twitterer-in-Chief, but Bevin has used the Trump template when it comes to information and the media. He became the first governor in history to flatly refuse to release his tax returns. His office staff responds to media requests only if they want to, and he will publicly and childishly call out reporters who have the temerity to question his motives or actions.
Two things are clear from Desrochers’ story: Bevin’s air travel combines a lot of personal and official business, and a lot of that official business is probably aimed at increasing his national stature in important political areas like Iowa, Washington, D.C. and Colorado.
His most expensive trip cost $18,000, with stops in Chicago and Billings, Mont. before heading to Seattle. He may have done so to make a pitch to Amazon to locate its second headquarters in Louisville, but we don’t know.
Unlike governors in other states, Bevin doesn’t release a weekly schedule, so the only clue of where he might be going or what he might be doing comes from the occasional press release or one of his Facebook videos. Bevin hates the press, and once quoted disgraced vice-president Spiro Agnew to defend disgraced EPA chief Scott Pruitt, calling the media those “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
But the press is here to remind Bevin about one of this country’s greatest strengths: government by and for the people. Bevin is accountable to the people of Kentucky, who deserve to know what he is doing on their behalf. It’s probably easy to forget that fact when you’re flying around the country in a private plane, but it doesn’t make it less true.