E-mail issue now is a political liability

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

This is not the first time I have addressed the issue of Gov. Matt Blunt's e-mails. I can only hope it's the last. By way of background, there is a legal battle under way concerning the refusal by the Blunt administration to release e-mails from his office. There are ample questions in the legal realm but primarily the issue is a potential violation of Missouri's Open Records Law. Blunt says his e-mail correspondence is not subject to the state law and would jeopardize the ability of future top state executives from conducting business. That's a gross over-simplification of the issue but it forms the basis of Blunt's argument.

Just about every elected official in the state has weighed-in on the issue and predictably, most of the arguments fall along party lines.

But increasingly, none of this is important.

What's important is that this sticky issue is rapidly becoming campaign fodder for the Democrats and Blunt's consistent refusal to release the e-mails may well dictate the November election results. And on so many levels, this is just wrong.

This past week the issue of Blunt's e-mails surfaced in just about every statewide campaign. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was grilled on his decision not to release the e-mails while serving as acting governor recently. Both candidates for attorney general were put on the spot to answer how they will handle the issue once elected. The list goes on and on.

There will be an end to this saga. The courts will either force the Blunt administration to release the back-up tapes of the e-mails or will rule that they are indeed privileged. Yet unless that resolution comes prior to the November general elections - which seems unlikely - this ugly cloud will hang over the elections and it could impact the final result.

The problem is less a true constitutional question on executive privilege than it is a lurid curiosity concerning the content of the e-mails. Politicians - especially on the Democratic side - think there must be something embarrassing or questionable on the tapes and that forms the basis for the full frontal attack of the Blunt administration. And without a resolution, these underground winks and nods undermine the issues facing Missourians this election year.

To me at least, Blunt is on solid legal ground in his decision to fight for the privacy of the e-mails. But legal ground aside, the brouhaha is fed largely because of Blunt's hasty and unexpected withdrawal from a bid for re-election. That prompted his critics to wonder if there was not something within the e-mails that would have undermined a second term for the popular Blunt.

And like it or not, it is that uncertainty that continues to inject itself into the campaign. In short, Blunt has become the 800 pound elephant in the room for this election year.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: