The Houston Chronicle and two other Texas newspapers won access to Gov. Rick Perry's travel records this afternoon after a district judge apparently found no evidence that their release would place Perry or anyone else in imminent danger.
"This is a very good day for public disclosure," said Matthew Baumgartner, an attorney for the publishers of the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News and the Austin American-Statesman. "If a basic accounting document can be restricted on security grounds, there's no limit to what can be withheld."
The terse, two-page judgment by State District Judge Scott Jenkins comes eight months after the publishers of the three newspapers jointly filed suit against the Texas Department of Public Safety for refusing to release copies of expense vouchers filed by the Governor's security detail when they traveled with him last year and in 2001.
Reporters for the newspapers, hoping to show how taxpayer money is spent on trips taken by the Governor, had requested the information through the state's Public Information Act.
There was no immediate comment from officials with DPS or the Texas Attorney General's office, which is defending DPS. But an attorney with the AG's office insisted at trial Thursday that the information could endanger the governor, his family, and all those who travel with them by providing "a roadmap" to anyone who might wish to inflict harm.
"It's not the dollar amount, it's the logistical information, " said Brenda Loudermilk, chief of Open Records Litigation for the AG's office. That information, she said, includes numbers of people in the Governor's security detail, the places they stay and the manner in which they travel.
Greg Abbott's idea that elected officials shouldn't have to reveal travel voucher for taxpayer-financed trips flat out astonishes me and goes against almost four decades of AG interpretations regarding such documents. For an AG who in his early years appeared to be pretty good on open records and meetings issues, the use of these strained interpretations to protect the Governor's schedule strikes me as both unnecessary and unseemly.