It should surprise no one when politicians engage in politics. It’s what they do.

Yet the practice of playing political games can distract elected officials from taking serious actions. When that happens, they can miss opportunities to transform good ideas into real-life policies.

This observer spotted a missed opportunity while reading Senate Bill 911 and its companion, House Bill 1075. Filed by Democrats, the bills would place a proposed state constitutional amendment on North Carolina’s ballot in November.

The amendment would establish a constitutional right of access to public records and meetings.

“The people of North Carolina have the right of access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business,” according to the bill text. “Public records are the property of the people. Meetings of public bodies should be open to the people.”

“The records made, transmitted, or received by public officials and agencies, including the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of State government, and all bodies of local government, shall be open to public inspection, examination, and duplication,” the text continues. “The meetings of all State and local public bodies shall be open to the public.”

After describing the constitutional right, the legislation defines its limits.

“A statute, regulation, ordinance, rule, or other legal authority shall not limit the right of access to the meetings of public bodies and the records of public officials and agencies unless the public bodies, officials, or agencies can demonstrate that (i) a compelling public interest is protected by the limitation and (ii) the limitation is narrowly tailored to protect the public interest,” according to the bill.

The concept is sound. Establish government openness and transparency as default settings. Use the constitutional safeguard to demand justification when government seeks exceptions to the general rule.

Some might consider it a man-bites-dog moment when a commentator working for a free-market organization endorses an idea promoted by Democrats. Yet openness and transparency are good-government pillars the John Locke Foundation has promoted for more than three decades.

North Carolinians would see benefits from provisions of SB 911/HB 1075.

Yet this column offers the legislation and its backers two cheers, rather than a full-throated, three-cheer endorsement.

Here’s where the conversation returns to politicians and their practices.

Democrats hold 20 of the 50 seats in the North Carolina Senate and 48 of the 120 seats in the House of Representatives. Basic math tells us they cannot pass any legislation on their own.

Political reality within our General Assembly dictates that Democrats need to do more than convince six Republican senators and 13 GOP House members to vote with them. Those are the numbers a united Democratic caucus would need to secure simple majorities in both legislative chambers.

Yet to gain any traction, Democrats would need support from Republicans in positions of power. Leaders in neither legislative chamber are likely to push bills touted primarily — and certainly not exclusively — by Democrats.

No one should accuse backers of the proposed constitutional amendment of political naivete. Among the Senate bill’s lead sponsors is Wake County’s Dan Blue. He has roamed legislative hallways as a member since 1981 and served two terms as state House speaker 30 years ago. Blue understands political calculus better than most.

He and his co-sponsors know that if they really had wanted to place the transparency measure on the ballot this fall, they would have worked across the aisle with Republican colleagues to craft a bipartisan proposal.

Instead Democrats filed a bill without a single Republican supporter, then used a news conference to call out GOP colleagues who had proposed similar legislation in the past. It’s unlikely that strategy will generate the goodwill necessary to round up votes. The measure is not destined to move forward in the coming weeks.

It’s much more likely that the legislation was designed to fulfill a political purpose. Democratic supporters hope to set themselves up as champions of transparency. They’ll contrast themselves with Republican counterparts who ignore the Democratic bills. They will point to GOP lawmakers’ dubious decision last year to exempt legislative documents from public records requirements.

Good politics? Perhaps. We will have to wait to see whether the transparency message resonates with voters this fall.

It’s almost certain that those same voters will have no opportunity to decide whether our state constitution should spell out a right to public records and open meetings. Democrats’ decision to play politics with the issue means that a vote of the people will have to wait.

When transparency supporters put forward a realistic plan, this observer might be ready to offer them a third cheer.

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.