Each year, Sunshine Week celebrates Florida's cherished heritage of open government. The Public Records and Sunshine Laws, as well as our unique open government constitutional amendment, stand out among other state laws in safeguarding the public's right of access to government records and proceedings.
All over Florida, ordinary citizens work tirelessly to make our communities a better place to live. They attend public meetings, pore over public records, and offer suggestions and recommendations to local and state leaders. Through their efforts, they fulfill the Founding Fathers' vision of a strong and secure democracy based on the will of the people.
Today we in Florida, like the rest of the nation, are addressing difficult economic issues. We must work together to find fair and responsible ways to meet these challenges, and I know that we will succeed. We may have different ideas on what the best strategies should be. But, like the early leaders of our republic, we can all agree that the principles of open government are more important than ever.
As James Madison wrote, "(A) people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." In Madison's time, our nation faced many threats to its survival. But Madison and his contemporaries knew that the strength of a democracy depends upon the people's right to know about their government. The public access laws safeguard the people's right to know and help make our democracy strong.
In my inaugural address two years ago, I spoke of the importance of open government and the need for state agencies to follow the letter and spirit of the public access laws. The first executive order I signed created the Office of Open Government to provide training and education to agency personnel and help assure compliance. The goal was — and continues to be — to remove the door that blocks access to government and replace it with a window that allows the sun to shine through. To date, the Office of Open Government has sponsored training for over 2,000 employees and established open government contacts in 48 state agencies, including state universities.
Last fall, the nation elected a new president who has forcefully advocated for strong open government principles and transparency in the federal government. The new leadership recognizes, as we do here in Florida, that the public's right to know is critical to the government's ability to develop solutions to meet the needs of our nation. As President Obama said on his first full day in office, "Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." It is rewarding to hear that the important open government principles we value in the Sunshine State can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.
Floridians can be proud of the fact that our open government laws are nationally recognized for their breadth and comprehensive scope. They provide the accountability that enables the people to determine for themselves which government programs are working and which are not. Ultimately, they provide the basis for us to come together as a state and emerge stronger than ever in the coming years.
We have many challenges as a state and as a nation. But, as President Lincoln recognized in the darkest days of the Civil War, a government of the people, by the people and for the people, will endure. Open government laws give the people the ability to ensure that Lincoln's unwavering faith in our democracy will stand the test of time.
Charlie Crist is Florida's 44th governor. He also served as Florida's attorney general, education commissioner and as a state senator.