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.