Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, today announced the selection of Jolene Unsoeld, former member of the Washington state legislature and United States House of Representatives as the winner of the 2008 James Madison Award.
“The selection committee had a field of outstanding nominees to choose from, but could pick only one for the award. They chose Jolene Unsoeld for her consistent commitment to the cause of the public’s right to know what its government is doing, as she has demonstrated throughout her career in words and actions,” stated Nixon.
In his nomination statement, WCOG board member Chris Leman wrote: “No one has worked harder over a longer period of years to protect and strengthen Washington's Public Disclosure Act than Jolene Unsoeld. It is well known that she served as a Member of Congress from 1989 to 1995 and worked there on behalf of the federal Freedom of Information Act and campaign spending reform. However, it has not adequately been recognized that first as an independent lobbyist in Olympia from 1971 to 1984 and then as a state legislator from 1985 to 1988, Unsoeld was Washington state's major advocate for open government. In that often lonely role, she protected and strengthened the Public Records Act, the Open Public Meetings Act, and the Public Disclosure Commission and the laws that it enforces.
Jolene Unsoeld collected petition signatures in 1972 to put Initiative 276, the Open Government Act (now often referred to as the Public Disclosure Act) on the ballot, and was part of the campaign that enacted the initiative that year through overwhelming voter support. This victory was over a much weaker alternative that the state legislature had put on the ballot in hopes of stopping real reform. Of course, legislators remained skeptical of the legislation (as, in many ways, some are today), and they began to weaken it as soon as they could. The Coalition for Open Government that had developed the initiative was a Seattle-based and unincorporated umbrella group that focused its efforts after 1972 on defending Initiative 276 in the courts. After it disbanded in 1975 and for more than a quarter century (until 2003 with the founding of the Washington Coalition for Open Government) there was no organization solely dedicated to open government in Washington.”
Unsoeld will be honored at a breakfast to be held in the Lobby Lounge of the Washington Athletic Club, 1325 6th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101 from 7:00 to 9:00 AM on Friday, September 19. Enrique Cerna, KCTS-TV9 program director will act as master of ceremonies, and Seattle P-I political cartoonist David Horsey will deliver the keynote address. The public is invited to attend. Registration forms are available from the Washington Coalition for Open Government, 6351 Seaview Avenue NW, Seattle, WA 98107-2664 or on the web at www.washingtoncog.org.
For more information, phone 206.782.0393 or FAX 206.623.4474.
The Washington Coalition for Open Government (WCOG) is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 by a group of individuals representing a broad spectrum of opinions and backgrounds, all dedicated to the principles of strengthening the state’s open government laws and protecting the public’s access to government at all levels.
The James Madison Award, named for the nation’s fourth president, known as the Father of the Constitution, is awarded annually to an individual who has demonstrated exceptional dedication to the First Amendment and the cause of open government. The 2005 honoree was retired Washington State Chief Justice James Andersen; in 2006 Rowland Thompson, executive director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington received the award; and in 2007, the award went to Paul Wright, publisher of the Prison Legal News.