He's also confident taxpayers aren't the least bit interested in legislation that would subject the state Legislature and the governor's office to the Freedom of Information Act that makes the official email correspondence of most of Michigan's elected officials available to the public.
I know these things because Meekhof told me before a roomful of reporters, editors and newspaper publishers attending the Michigan Press Association's annual meeting in Grand Rapids late last month.
The MPA invited former Free Press Editorial Page Editor Ron Dzwonkowski and me to interview Meekhof, Republican House Speaker Tom Leonard, Democratic Assistant Senate Minority Leader Steve Bieda and House Minority Leader Sam Singh about the new legislative session. I began the session by asking Meekhof why he had killed a package of bills that would have ended the Legislature's exemption from FOIA.
The bills, which breezed through the House with the near-unanimous support of representatives on both sides of the aisle last year, died in December's lame-duck session when Meekhof refused to bring them to a vote on the Senate floor.
Speaking to journalists from all over the state, the Republican Senate leader from West Olive was unrepentant.
"You guys are the only people who care about this," he said.
Dead last in accountability
Filing a request for any government record is a laborious, time-consuming process, and Meekhof is certainly right when he observes that only a tiny minority of citizens ever exercise their right to do so. Most FOIA requests are submitted by journalists, who use the correspondence, travel records and other information discoverable under the law to provide more detailed descriptions of elected officials' activities.
Michigan is one of just two states that exempt their governors and state lawmakers from the public-disclosure laws that govern mayors, city and county commissioners, and most other public officials in the state.
That's one of the distinctions that prompted the Center for Public Integrity to rank Michigan 50th out of 50 state governments in transparency and public accountability.
On a more practical level, Michigan's exemption allowed the Snyder administration to conceal email correspondence whose timely disclosure might have cut short the furtive pantomime of denial and evasion that later erupted into the Flint water crisis, the worst man-made catastrophe of Snyder's tenure.
The continuing fallout from Flint is one of the factors that prompted a bipartisan group of nearly 100 Michigan legislators to appear at a recent news conference where they announced their resolve to revive the FOIA exemptions that died in the Senate.
Besides ending the governor's exemption from FOIA and creating a Legislative Open Records Act to mandate public disclosure of lawmakers' official correspondence, the legislation backed by the bipartisan coalition would establish a new administrative office to resolve disputes over what's public. It would continue to shield disclosure of letters to and from non-lobbyist constituents and records maintained by the parties respective legislative caucuses.
The coalition, which has the support of Republican Speaker Leonard, may prompt Meekhof to reconsider his conviction that the furtive horse-trading he and his elected colleagues do in Lansing is no concern of the taxpayers who pay their salaries.
Feeding the flames
Paring back the exemptions that shield the governor and Legislature from public disclosure laws would be only a modest first step in attacking the lax conflict-of-interest regulations and toothless campaign finance disclosure laws that have made Lansing a playground for lobbyists and dark-money donors.
But it would at least acknowledge the toxic distrust of government that fueled the rise of Donald Trump and threatens to undermine the best efforts of legislators who want to address Michigan's crumbling infrastructure and failing schools with robust legislative action.
Meekhof's cynical conclusion that most of his constituents have neither the time nor inclination to know more about what their elected representatives are up to may be right, up to a point. But that may be only a byproduct of the electorate's own smoldering cynicism, and Meekhof might want to be careful about pouring more gasoline on those hot coals.
You may contact Brian Dickerson at the Detroit Free Press at [email protected]