Opinionated @ CFE

Some Proposed Adjustments to the Ethics Initiative


I’ve already written about how the proposed ethics initiative is a poor substitute for citizen action on ethics issues. It seems, though, that backers are intent on pushing through the proposal anyway and voters just may well sign off on it. In the interest of putting the best law forward, I’d like to suggest some changes to both calm fears and gauge its effectiveness.

First off, the method of picking the members of the commission needs an overhaul. Requiring the leadership of both parties to agree twenty times on who will be randomly selected from is already a bit of a stretch, but allowing the sponsors of the initiative to pick the names should they deadlock is unheard of. Instead, why not allow private citizens to submit their names and names of other qualified candidates for consideration? It would provide a much bigger pool to choose from and, once filtered for any potential conflicts, would not be subject to any kind of partisan manipulation to throw selection to the petition sponsors.

Second, there needs to be a sunset provision. I honestly wish that all laws had such provisions so that they could be re-evaluated from time to time for effectiveness and relevance. If the ethics commission has done its job well 10 years from now, it has nothing to fear from the voters. If, however, it turns into a nightmarish bureaucracy the way legislators have feared, we have the chance to turn it out on its head and consider something new.

Third, there must be clearly defined goals of the initiative. While the specific rules seem like good ethical guidelines, voters need to know what it is that would be accomplished by implementation. This also provides a way to measure progress when it sunsets.

Fourth, shift the burden of proof more heavily onto the accusers. I know you guys have a big pitcher of Haterade for legislators, but you cannot simply ignore the presumption of innocence.

Even with these changes, I would still oppose the initiative as presently constituted since I do not believe it to be the best solution to the problem. I would hope, however, that such changes would make it more effective, accountable, and equitable should it be passed.

Indulging Our Laziness


In a responsible republic, citizens must be participatory in choosing and carefully watching their chosen leaders. Without the fear of retaliation from the governed, those leaders feel emboldened to abuse the public trust. When citizens let their guard down and a holder of elective office abuses the power given them, we should rightfully run them out of office. Instead, we throw up our hands, yell that the system is beyond repair, and abdicate our responsibility for fixing things to someone else. All too often, that someone else has little reservation about the abuses that drove others to inaction. Thus the vicious cycle continues, constantly winnowing down the participants in our electoral process to a smaller and smaller minority. The current push to create an ethics commission is just an indulgence of that collective laziness.


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