gavin-newsomYesterday Californians who knew where to look were offered a refreshing burst of frank talk from their Lieutenant Governor in regard to the state’s Open Government efforts.

I’ve written here in the past that the Open Government movement gathered some steam at the end of the last decade but was seemingly abandoned. When now-Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom was San Francisco’s mayor, he issued an executive order that made Open Government a priority here, and years later we are on the brink of seeing some of the effects of those efforts come to fruition.

But in his time as Lieutenant Governor, Newsom has expressed frustration with the lack of initiative on Open Government reform. Today in a Gitchat session on Github, a bizarro version of a Reddit AMA (in that it is much less bizarre), Newsom answered questions posed by presumed real people on issues relating to government and technical innovation.

The chat’s moderator, Luke Fretwell, posed the following question:

“What’s the status of California’s open data strategy and what do we need to do to get it back on track?”

To which Newsom replied:

“California does not have much of an open data policy. We’re not even debating it as we should.

“While I was mayor of San Francisco, we required machine-readable, downloadable open data and it cost us nothing. All these private sector companies started to pop up because we decided to take information that was captured in the vaults of government and just put some simple data sets online in each city department and make them available.

“What did that take? Nothing, a simple executive order followed up by legislation. The governor should do the same thing. We should put the resources back into that data portal we have and get serious here.

“A growing number of cities and states across the country are doing similar things and California is behind the curve.”

Which is pretty close to putting a finger right on it.

As I’ve written before, there are some major potential momentum swings in the offing for the Open Data movement in California. Proposition 42 will be voted on in June and could provide state and local governments with a real bottom-line incentive to make their data more available.  As San Francisco rolls out its avant-garde data program over the next couple of months, the results could inspire copycats. And the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development is exploring a big push toward Open Government as a stimulating economic tonic.

Hopefully years from now, we’ll find ourselves straining to recall a time when journalists and citizens were forced through a byzantine system of tubes and switches when they wanted access to public information, and when different governmental bodies knew not what the other hand was doing. But let’s remember that the Lt. Gavinator, an erstwhile up-and-coming political darling ensconced in a statewide office of nebulous agency, was crying out in the wilderness for Open Government Data long before most of us were listening.

[image via wikimedia]