Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Governor's Commission Backs Off Addressing Ethics

If you haven't already read Thurday's Deseret News article on Governor Huntsman's democracy commission, please take time to digest its content and implications. In a nutshell, what has recently been informally referred to as the governor's "ethics commission" is now nothing of the sort. The governor originally wanted to study why the citizens of Utah were not participating in the political process and had identified several possible reasons, including discouragement over ethics problems.

Originally, five areas were under scrutiny for both study and redress: campaign finance, lobbying, elections, as well as ethics and redistricting. However, House Speaker, Dave Clark (R) asked the governor to "stand down" on tackling ethics and redistricting as part of the commission's work, and Huntsman has agreed. Apparently the idea that ethics reform and redistricting fall solely under Legislative branch purview, and that Governor Huntsman was stepping on toes, has won the day.

Can We Say "We Told You So", Yet?

In a recent blog Did the media dupe us on Huntsman's "Ethics Commission"?, my blogging partner, Sara, questioned the intent behind this commission. Kudos to Sara for seeing, and nailing, the writing on the wall! We have both blogged about various incarnations of ethics blunders and the "clear as the nose on your face" need for serious and real ethics reform in Utah. While some may feel that issues of ethics and redistricting should be issues handled by the Legislative branch, Governor Huntsman's decision simply begs the sad, yet critical, opportunity to say "we told you so". The term "ethics reform" has become a popular buzz word used for spin and hype, but has not come to represent, at least as yet, real change in Utah politics.

I also wonder how serious the governor is about gift bans and holding the Executive branch to a higher standard... Just curious. In any case, as it currently stands, the Legislative branch will continue policing itself...and perhaps the governor will continue wondering why Utahns are frustrated with Utah politics and "democracy".

You can keep up on the governor's commission at

Still One of Only Ten States Without an Ethics Commission

I feel like a broken record, but we have underscored on this site that Utah is still only one of ten states that does not have an independent Ethics Commission. Come on, folks. What does it take to get some genuine, objective oversight in this state? In December, I wrote:

Utah is one of only ten states that does not have an independed Ethics Commission. In our case, we have Senate and House Ethics Committees, intended to be bi-partisan in nature with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. Utah also relies on the Attorney General's office to provide ethics oversight. However, given the recent ethics debacles and their subsequent investigations (or relative lack thereof), it doesn't take much to realize that legislators policing legislators is not an ideal model.

Ethics reform was the hyped battlecry of this year's legislative session and hope was high for some of us that it would bear the fruit of an independent Ethics Commission.....especially since early talk about the governor's commission on democracy would take a serious look at ethics. What sounded like a genuine step toward a real Ethics Commission now just falls under the category of "business as usual".

Two, Okay, Three, Fundamental Changes We Need

In a recent post, I mentioned:

On this site, we have called for at least two fundamental changes in ethics reform, and they bear repeating:

1. Strong, clearly-written, and enforceable ethics legislation
2. An independent Ethics Commission

In my humble opinion, Utah has wasted yet another year and legislative session on hype, feel-good spin, and less-than-real progress toward measureable, impactful ethics reform. The two fundamental changes I just identified are yet at least another legislative session away from being taken seriously. Upon further reflection, I want to add another fundamental change we need: some new, honest, ethical public that change can come from the inside out. Maybe I'll run for office.