KRWG

Goodman: Sorry, We Need Transparency From Spaceport America

Mar 19, 2017

Credit Spaceport America

Commentary: The failing Spaceport got a local state senator to introduce Senate Bill 429, the Spaceport Confidential Records Act, which would cloak the Spaceport in secrecy, supposedly to attract customers.

New Mexico law already protects companies' trade secrets. This bill would protect the Spaceport's own “secrets” from its owners – you and me. The second excuse for it is to protect “cyberinfrastructure information” from potential terrorists. (Would some terrorist bomb the spaceport just to kill a few rabbits?) If this bill has any legitimate objective, it's unfortunate that someone drafted it using a meat-cleaver, rather than exercising actual thought. 

Knowing how essential governmental transparency is to our democracy, I worry about bills like this; and knowing that many citizens feel the Spaceport is an irredeemable failure, I wonder about management's motives.

The bill would bury any and all information about anyone or anything who/that provides revenue to the Spaceport.

Sorry, but I'm with the folks who feel we've bent over more than far enough for the Spaceport. 

If you're doing business with the Spaceport, you're doing business with me – and Tamie, Larry, and Bev. We have a right to know who and what you are. Maybe we don't WANT to do business with you because of your corporate conduct. Maybe we'd like to know whether the Spaceport managers, whose optimistic predictions haven't yet come close to panning out, gave you an unjustifiable sweetheart deal. Maybe we want to know if your brother-in-law is on the Spaceport Board.

We have a right to that information. Morally. Ethically. And legally, so far. I oppose this effort to obliterate that right. The context magnifies my objection. We're being asked for yet another sacrifice to the Almighty Spaceport, when many of us are not yet believers. The less say we have, and the less information we get, the more our financial contribution feels like taxation without representation. 

A host of other public entities are waiting in the wings to keep information from you and me. They'd like to keep salary information or public complaints or some pet pile of information confidential, mostly to protect their hind-parts. But certain obligations accompany the paycheck and other benefits public employees get. Transparency matters – even when it's inconvenient. Meaningful democracy requires public access to public documents.

“Cyberinfrastructure?” If there's a hole in the IPRA that would let me get information that should be secure, such as the password for detention center computers, by all means let's address it. (This bill makes no such broader effort.)

In September, management presented a rosy picture to a legislative oversight committee, without the requested secrecy. (The minutes show that a legislator stated that fencing 160 acres of Spaceport America land cost taxpayers $2 million when it should have cost only $28,000.)

On March 11, the Senate Public Affairs Committee voted 6-1 to report the bill without a recommendation. The Judiciary Committee has it now, as I write.

In a weird way, the bill reminds me of Trump's ban on immigrants and visitors from certain countries: courts that follow the law and overturn it will be “responsible” for most any future terrrorist act committed by an immigrant or visitor. With management claiming this nutty Spaceport Confidentiality Act is necessary to bring in revenue (which the Spaceport has spectacularly failed to do), opponents will now be “responsible” if the Spaceport continues to be a loser.

If proponents of this bill were representing their constituents, they'd be asking serious questions about whether or not we should pull the plug on Spaceport America. I don't know the answer, but that sure seems a more urgent question.

                                             

 

[The Legislative Finance Committee analysis concedes that “there are protections for trade secrets under New Mexico law,” but suggests that “specific protections for potential clients of Spaceport America may help increase customer solicitation.” To me, that's an admission that this thing ain't necessary. It "may help"; but customers' trade secrets are already protected, as noted in the column.]

  

 

[I always have to qualify anything I write about the Spaceport: technology can rapidly turn us in an unexpected direction, and many things given short shrift for a long time end up huge.  Edison thought that what he'd developed that led to the moving pictures was amusing, but too insignificant to bother patenting.  Serious scientists swore they'd never see man fly only a year or so before Kitty Hawk.  So maybe everything I write now will seem awfully foolish in a year or two or five or twenty.  

But as time passes, that feels increasingly like a teenager musing,  "But who knows, MAYBE there is a Santa Claus . . ."]