One other political task should be clear

(Thie editorial first appeared in The People-Sentinel Jan. 7, 2009)


The new year always brings with it promise - promise of new hopes, better intentions and the promise of a new unfolding calendar in which to achieve these promises.

The new year also brings with it (for 2009 at least) a new crop of state and local politicians, the victors from the Nov. 4 elections. Many of them too will likely bring their own promises - made on their campaign trails, as well as the promise of new ideas and viewpoints for the respective offices for which they have been elected.

As with any new politician taking office for the first time, the learning curve is tremendous. There is not just knowing the issues of one's particular district, but the history and dynamics behind those issues and problems as well as who sits on what side of those issues.

Also for the politician, there figuring out on which side they stand with an issue, particularly when the topic is not one of the more prominent hot-button controversies.

Another sobering task for neophyte public servants is the pressing need to understand quickly what an elected official can and cannot do in office as it relates to the law in general, but also to the myriad bylaws and procedures that are part of the "inter-governance" of an assembled body of people. An example of this would be state and federal legislators learning how to sponsor, draft or present legislative proposals within their respective elected assemblies.

(Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is learning the hard way how not to handle an inter-governmental procedure. Blagojevich was arrested on charges of mail fraud and federal corruption for trying to sell or trade Barack Obama's now vacant U.S. Senate seat for financial gain.)

The learning curve in politics is a steep parabola.

Not to make it steeper, but another area local and state politicians need to be mindful of is the S.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

A helpful hint for this new crop of South Carolina politicians - whether they are on the local or state level: The best way to maintain a mutually respectful and beneficial relationship with the media is by disclosing as much as possible publicly. In fact, there is relatively little that can't or shouldn't be disclosed within the dealings of government.

It is worth noting and praising the efforts of Gov. Mark Sanford in demanding governmental transparency from the state Employment Security Commission. The commission has twice refused to cooperate with an independent audit of the ESC and has been reluctant to share its information with the state Department of Commerce, one of its fellow state agencies that deals with complementary issues and challenges.

In Barnwell County, The People-Sentinel is willing to help any in-county elected official with any questions about FOIA.

Likewise, the S.C. Press Association is a valuable resource for state officials in maintaining constructive dialogues with the media.

And, like many of the issues and topics in a politician's district, it will be one that will come to their attention eventually.