Last week, a number of the candidates seeking to become Georgia’s next governor were invited to a forum sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.
The panel discussion was held at the Ritz-Carlton at Reynolds Plantation and was done as part of a board meeting of the state chamber.
You would think that what the candidates said during this discussion would have been widely reported by now, given that this discussion was held in front of the board of the biggest and most influential business group in the state and that the comments of the candidates would have wide public interest. And you would be right in thinking that.
Unfortunately that is not what happened.
In a scene straight out of the smoke filled back rooms of politics past, the chamber closed the forum not only to the public but also to any media coverage, effectively shutting the entire state out of hearing what got said there that day.
The chamber denied requests from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other news outlets to cover the panel discussion, which prompted protests from the AJC and other publications, including The Daily Citizen, that are part of the Georgia Newspaper Partnership.
In an e-mail to all of the gubernatorial candidates, Bert Roughton, managing editor of the AJC, called the move to close the forum “outrageous.”
“Have Georgia politicians not heard the powerful desire voters have to be included in deliberations that can set the course of their government? Apparently not,” Roughton said in the message.
Chamber spokeswoman Joselyn Baker replied that it is the chamber’s “standard policy” to close board meetings to the media.
That may be fine for a regular board meeting, but hosting the candidates for the state’s highest office is clearly not standard policy and wiser heads should have realized that the potential damage done by closing the forum far outweighed anything useful that could have come from the discussions.
The sad thing is that it should never have come to this.
Any candidate seriously committed to the principle of openness, transparency and avoiding the appearance of saying one thing in public and another in private should have politely told the state chamber thanks but no thanks.
Not one candidate, as far as we can tell, did that. Several candidates said they were surprised that the media was not there and did not know that they had not been invited.
That is fine and well, but at that point you should have said this isn’t right and politely excused yourself.
It doesn’t take much for a candidate to say to any group that he or she will only participate if the media is invited as well, so that even if the general public can’t attend they can still learn what was said and what questions were asked.
It doesn’t matter if it is the state chamber or the local elementary school PTO, the principle of openness is the same.
We hope it is a lesson that none of the candidates ever have to relearn.