Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Bad Bill Alert! Byrne's 65% "Solution" is Back (SB241)

You can read about what I've previously written about the 65% "Solution" here (Aug. 2008) and here (Sep. 2008), but here are some items you should be aware of:

  • It's nothing new. It was a bad idea then, it's a bad idea now.

  • This bad idea originated with Tim Mooney of Arizona. He used Patrick Byrne's (CEO of money and they organized their efforts and formed an organization known as "First Class Education"

  • First Class Education have apparently abandoned their original efforts. Their website is an empty WordPress blog, but don't be fooled. Thanks to technology (WayBack Machine) you can still view their old site.

  • Did I mention that it's nothing new? Four years ago, they attempted to get legislation passed in every state. They ultimately failed (they wanted to have legislation in all 50 states by 2008) despite the nasty memo that they circulated among legislators outlining their POLITICAL MOTIVES!

  • This is not a new bill. In 2006, Utah was included in their efforts when Greg Hughes sponsored HB143 titled "Instructional Expenses Requirements"

  • The 2006 bill made it out of the House Education Committee. It was amended before it passed out favorably with a vote of 7 "Yeas", 6 "Nays" and 2 "Absent".

  • The new bill is being sponsored by Senator Mark B. Madsen in the form of SB241 titled "Instructional Expenses". It is word for word exactly the same bill (unamended version) of HB143 in 2006.

  • Tim Mooney claims that the 65% Solution is currently on hold. When I asked him why it was on hold he told me it was due to timing. When I told him about SB241 in Utah he was surprised and told me that he wasn't aware of it. I asked him if he was still working with Patrick Byrne on this issue and he confirmed that he was.

  • Patrick Byrne is the newly appointed Co-Chair of the Friedman Foundation. Their agenda and goal is to have vouchers and legislation that supports vouchers in all 50 states. They already claim Utah as a success story for their involvement in the passage of the Carson Smith Scholarship program.

  • There is no basis or research for why they chose 65% that should be spent in the classroom. Why not 68% or 72%? Utah already spends at least 65% in the classroom. The purposes of this bill are outlined in their own memo and their agenda hasn't changed. Don't be fooled!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Developers, Lobbyists, and Legislative Ethics

Interesting stuff, ethics. Sometimes it's hard to tell what's in a name, and it appears that "ethics" can mean different things to different people. Sometimes the apparent lack of ethics in a given situation comes down to a differing world view. Take Sen. Buttars and his view on same-sex couples and their civil liberties. No matter where you fall on the topic, the side you view as "ethical" comes down to fundamental differences in what you define as right and wrong. Buttar's embarrassing antics aside, and acknowledging heated debate and belief on both sides, I believe fundamentally differing world views will always cause each of us to question our definition of ethics and who is right or wrong in any given situation.

Defining Ethics

HOWEVER, broader world view perspectives are not the focus of ethics reform at Capitol Hill. The ethics reform we are all calling for can and should be clearly defined and measured. But will it even come close? A couple of GOP ethics bills have made their way into the Senate, and here are the ethics bills currently being considered in the House Ethics Committee. What exactly is the definition of "ethics" up on the hill? For example, as a public servant, is it ethical to have to list all of the gifts you receive from lobbyists, or is it ethical to simply refuse an honest attempt to remain unbeholden to anyone except your constituents? I have my own opinion, and it has nothing to do with limiting or listing gifts.

Developers and Lobbyists Need To Go

I also wonder if its ethical for a legislature full of developers and former/future lobbyists to to police themselves. The Governor's "ethics commission" does not look like it's shaping up to actually become an independent body providing oversight on ethics at all. The developers and lobbyists will continue to run the state, remain loyal to their overall agendas, and get away with looking like they are truly interested in ethics by participating in this year's high-profile ethics reform. In addition to truly effective ethics legislation and a bona fide independent Ethics Commission, the current gaggle of developers and lobbyists parading as public servants need to be ousted in the next round of elections. They need to be replaced by individuals who are actually interested in, and capable of, actually serving the public in honest, ethical, and transparent ways.

Do your research, my friends. Understand not only the world view of your public servants, but also their definition of ethics and what loyalties they bring with them to the hill...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Did the media dupe us on Huntsman's "Ethics Commission"?

On January 22, 2009, Governor Huntsman announced a newly-formed Commission. That evening and during the next 24 hours the headlines read "Huntsman appoints ethics reform panel", "Huntsman launches commission to clean up Utah politics", and "Governor organizes government ethics commission". I remember the evening well. I was jogging on the treadmill and nearly fell off it when it was announced on the ten o'clock news. I was pleased, but skeptical.

Imagine my surprise when I hear Doug Wright (a member of the commission) on the morning news clarifying that when the commission was formed Governor Huntsman had a lot more things in mind...ethics being only one item on the long list. Surprise turns to disappointment when I read the formal name of the commission, "Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy". That doesn't sound anything like an ethics commission!

Based on news reports, almost all of them spinning the ethics reform angle, I was able to determine that Huntsman isn't really sure exactly what will come of the commission and that he won't tell the commission specifically what the recommendations should look like. Quotes like, "They will do their thing and we will do ours, and I suspect that over time, some of these things will be taken up" didn't inspire confidence for the direction of the commission. I was beginning to understand that my idea of an ethics commission was a lot different than the media's spin on what Huntsman never meant to be an ethics commission in the first place!

Huntsman spokeswoman Lisa Roskelley said the commission's purpose is to look "at reasons why Utahns aren't participating and don't have the necessary confidence in their government system. This group is not intended to look solely at ethics or even legislative ethics."

Disappointment turns to bananas (as in "mad as heck") when I realize that the local mainstream media fed us what we wanted to hear! A lot of people probably didn't catch on to what they were sold a couple of weeks ago. Happy to see that something was finally being done about last year's unethical behavior, they went along with the daydream. I hate to be the one to wake you up, but wipe the drool off your face and snap out of it! Huntsman has something else going on, but it likely won't bring about the major ethics reform that we have been asking for. Who knows, maybe his commission will be able to have some influence or come up with some good ideas or recommendations. He's not even sure, so how can we be?

I'm sure I'll be looking more into the Governor's Commission on Strengthening Utah's Democracy, but for now there are real bills, a lot of them making their way to the House Ethics Committee as recently as Monday. These bills would have the potential for real change to how business is done up on the hill. Keep an eye on them. They've already made it further than some ethics bills made it last year. Congrats to the 2009 House Rules Commmittee.

Unfortunately, House Speaker Dave Clark has already given up. He recently said, "It's not going to happen in this session. This is going to take, I think, through this next summer." I sincerely hope he was just trying to incite a riot. In any case, it's going to take continued public outcry if anything is to be done. Polls alone aren't enough. We had polls last year and nothing was done. We need polls, scandals (plenty to choose from) and public outcry. The legislators themselves understand the need for public outcry and have stated that it will take " a burst of public support" before they can proceed with any kind of ethics reform legislation, and they were saying that in January, 2008. They told us what it's going to take, you take it from here.