Douglas sees merit in sealing gubernatorial records

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says that he doubts that Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean is trying to conceal any major secrets in the gubernatorial records that have been sealed for a 10-year period. Douglas says there’s a good reason why some records are taken out of public view for a number of years.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Former governor and now Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean has picked up an unlikely ally in a growing controversy over Dean’s decision to seal some of his gubernatorial records for a 10-year period. That ally is the state’s current Republican governor Jim Douglas.

When Dean left office, his attorney negotiated a deal with Secretary of State Deb Markowitz that allowed Dean to seal some of his more sensitive papers for a 10-year period. Dean’s agreement was four years longer than similar arrangements with former governors Richard Snelling and Madeleine Kunin.

At one of his final gubernatorial press conferences, as he prepared his bid to run for president, Dean told reporters that the 10-year period was chosen “because we didn’t want anything embarrassing appearing in the papers at a critical time in any future endeavor.”

Several of his Democratic opponents have criticized Dean for keeping these records secret for a decade and a Washington-based conservative group, Judicial Watch, is contemplating legal action to make these documents public. Douglas seriously doubts that the sealed papers contain any incriminating documents:

(Douglas) “I don’t know there’s any reason to feel there’s any smoking gun or anything really incriminating or exciting in governor Dean’s records. I think it’s a matter of curiosity now on the part of the media and his opponents.”

(Kinzel) In 1990, as secretary of State, Douglas negotiated a six-year agreement with Governor Madeleine Kunin as she prepared to leave office. Douglas says he believes that allowing governors to seal their papers preserves a more accurate historical record for the future:

(Douglas) “Ideally there would be no closure period but to be perfectly honest, my sense was that governors were more likely to leave more complete records of their administrations if there was a period of closure. There was less likely to be a sanitizing of the records and so the historic record would be more complete and that would be more beneficial to researchers over time. So I thought it was a small price to pay to have a brief period of closure, after which the record of the gubernatorial tenure would be more complete.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s not sure what the appropriate time frame is for a governor to seal their records. He says a six-year period was chosen for Madeleine Kunin because she had been in office for that amount of time.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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