Inside the Capitol

Monday, June 09, 2008

6-13 Ethics Reformers Optimistic

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Proponents of governmental ethics reform feel they have reason to be optimistic after this month's primary elections.
During the past four years, lawmakers have talked about ethics reform and then done next to nothing. Gov. Bill Richardson appointed a high-powered ethics commission to develop proposals for presentation to the Legislature.
The governor backed many of those proposals and took them to the Legislature where almost all of them met their demise. Most commonly, the House would pass the measures and the Senate would kill them.
That doesn't necessarily mean House members were good guys and senators wore black hats. Senators have four year terms and so are more insulated from the wrath of their constituents. Consequently they seem more willing to be the bad guys, letting House members keep their hands clean.
But this year, all 112 legislators have to stand for reelection. Some of those not seeking reelection appear to have left their seats open for candidates who will be more open to ethics reform.
But one never knows for sure. The quickest way for a rookie lawmaker to get ahead is to go along to get along with the dinosaurs who control committees and appointments.
An even better sign was the primary election defeat of some of those dinosaurs. One overthrow especially savored by ethics reformers was that of Democratic Sen. Shannon Robinson of Albuquerque.
Robinson routinely voted against ethics reforms. He was former Senate leader Manny Aragon's strongest supporter. And he has been involved in ethically questionable capers of his own.
I must digress from the subject briefly to note there are valid arguments against any ethics reform and that Sen. Robinson is one of the most colorful legislators I have encountered in my 45 years at the Capitol.
He's a nice guy, who hires great staff, and has championed many good causes. I'm sure I will be devoting a full column to him soon.
Other incumbent defeats welcomed by the ethics reformers were Democrat Sen. James Taylor and Rep. Dan Silva , of Albuquerque and Rep. Dan Foley of Roswell, the Republican whip.
One ethics reformer who won't be back is Albuquerque Republican Sen. Joe Carraro who gave up his seat to unsuccessfully challenge Republican Sheriff Darren White for the 1st Congressional District seat.
During the campaign, Carraro ran into trouble of his own concerning consulting work he did for a company while sponsoring legislation that benefited them.
The subject of ethics takes on many forms. The word itself has a very broad meaning. It can mean stemming the influence of money in politics. It also can mean making the decision making process more transparent.
During the past four years many ethics reforms have been proposed by various public officials or groups. Most have found their way into legislation. Very few have succeeded. The following are some of those proposals, which might stand a better chance next year.
Creating a state ethics commission to develop a code of conduct and investigate allegations of wrongdoing.
Strengthening the Government Conduct Act and extending it to legislators and city and county officials.
Increasing the information on the secretary of state's Web site and making it easier to use
Limiting the size of campaign contributions. Extending public financing of campaigns to all offices.
Requiring lobbyists to reveal how much they are paid and requiring them to wear name badges that identify their clients.
Prohibiting gifts to public officials. Providing a legislative salary.
Televising legislative sessions. Publishing voting records.
Opening conference committees between the House and Senate.
Requiring former legislators to wait one year before lobbying.
Increasing protection of state employees who report corruption.
Increasing penalties for crimes involving corruption.
FRI, 6-13-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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