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July 29, 2013

BRIAN HOWEY: Government emails in Indiana, John Gregg and me

Former speaker saved journalism in 2001.

There’s been an interesting sideshow these past couple of weeks consisting of emails from former Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Education Superintendent Tony Bennett and his then-chief of staff, Todd Huston, about whether the writings of Professor Howard Zinn should be exposed and taught to Indiana students.

If nothing else, it’s given us an inner view of one of the more successful governorships in modern times, and the first digital one at that, and how power and influence was wielded.

And this Daniels email story forged by Associated Press reporter Tom LoBianco and his Freedom of Information Act requests to the Indiana Department of Education might not have existed had not this writer ended up at a Vincennes University luncheon with then-House Speaker John Gregg in November 2001.

Gregg had pulled some strings and gotten me an honor from the university where I studied journalism under Professor Fred Walker Jr., between 1974 and 1976, before heading off to Indiana University Bloomington. It wasn’t something I had sought and it certainly worked against the grain of my modus operandi, which is to “blend” as opposed to being a conspicuous character.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those circumstances allowed me to make perhaps my biggest impact on Indiana journalism.

The Internet age had dawned and was now becoming a pervading aspect in the way we communicate. In the long Indiana General Assembly session of 2001, House Bill 1083 would have prevented press access to the electronic mails of government officials. Beyond personal meetings, phone calls, letters and facsimiles, the email was becoming a key way to communicate and the rules developed around it not unlike what we’re currently witnessing with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

HB 1083 passed both chambers and ended up on the desk of Gov. Frank O’Bannon, who by vocation was publisher of the Corydon Democrat. O’Bannon vetoed the bill.

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