March Winners (2014)
Best in Governance
Edward Snowden, Barack Obama, and the NSA Reforms
A year ago, Edward Snowden was little known outside the shadowy world of national security. But since the one-time contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton leaked shocking and costly revelations about the government, Patriot Act sanctioned, involvement in spying on its citizens and world leaders. His name has inspired contentious debate, with some claiming his unauthorized disclosures has harmed national security and others crediting him with starting an important conversation about privacy, Internet governance, and the oversight of government intelligence-gathering entities. In a nomination for this month’s Best in Governance award, one voter pointed to Snowden’s role as a 21st century public servant who has enabled critical discussion about the oversight of agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) as well as the efficacy and legitimacy of surveillance techniques.
Clearly, the rise of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange and their attempts to influence the levers of power through the widespread distribution of hidden data and sensitive information has complicated the governance process for President Barack Obama. Though maligned by elements on both sides of the debate, Obama’s recently proposed NSA reforms seem to offer a long-awaited acknowledgement of a thorny issue from the White House and hope that an overdue legislative solution may finally may be underway.
For his part, Snowden has called Obama’s call to halt the NSA’s sweeping collection of bulk telephone records and other metadata a “turning point,” in the debate about the role of the NSA in surveillance. While he is concerned that the proposal may not go far enough in restricting the NSA, Snowden described as the reforms as “the beginning of a new effort to reclaim our rights from the NSA, and restore the public’s seat at the table of government.” For the American people, that outcome would be a welcome and worthwhile result.
Worst in Governance
Leland Yee and Scandal-Plagued California State Senators
Governor Jerry Brown’s ability to tame the budget process, an improving economy, and a Democratic supermajority seem to have ushered in an era of sensible government for the Golden State, but this relative amity has been marred by recent allegations of corruption, bribery, and voter fraud by three California state senators. The California State Senate voted to suspend Leland Yee, Ron Calderon, and Rod Wright last week, but it is Yee’s ignominious escapades that have captivated the state with allegations of ties to Islamic militants in the Philippines and an arms-trafficking Daly City dentist. According to a 137-page FBI affidavit released after his arrest, Yee was entangled in a web of scandal that included potential gun-trafficking deals with a shady, unreformed mobster named Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow, a former school board president accused of murder-for-hire schemes, and bribes to influence the state’s marijuana policy. For Yee, a noted gun-control advocate who pushed for greater restrictions on the operation and sale of guns, the volte-face was a stunning turn of events that shocked both local leaders and veteran followers of California politics and even prompted a gleeful tweet from the National Rifle Association. For the Democrats, the astounding spate of scandals suggests that all may not be as well as it seems in the Golden State.
The Bedrosian Center’s Best & Worst in Governance winners are chosen from nominations by the public. This is not a scientific process, rather one that we hope inspires conversation and even debate on the topic of governance.
We’re all in this together.
by Jeremy Loudenback