Self-deprecation is worth its weight in smoldering phoenix-ashes and baby unicorn tears.
Published on October 27, 2008 By SanChonino In Politics

I read a thought-provoking article this morning from the Deseret News' incomparable John Florez (by far one of their best editorial writers - he's on the money quite often) explaining about the need for ethics reform in the state of Utah.

He makes some compelling arguments for ethics reform, and why it seems so distant. To quote from the article itself:

Any effort to introduce reform legislation each year gets killed and never sees the light of day. And those in power grab more each year. Two years ago, for every $100 in donations legislators received, $96.70 came from special-interest groups or from their own pockets, according to the Deseret News. Now, some don't even bother to campaign in their own districts. They don't have to — they have lobbyists to bankroll their campaigns.
Like all institutions, those in them resist change, and, over the years, they create more devices to insulate themselves from criticism, deny any wrongdoing, or try to justify their actions. And while 97 percent of the public wants ethics and campaign finance reform, lawmakers ignore the public's voice and keep doing the same. We forget that institutions don't change unless it is done by outside forces, because those in power cannot be trusted to be self-critical. They become entrenched and seek to amass more power and become more focused on serving those who keep them there — those special interests that feed off the institution. "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

His words spoke to me this morning as I sat eating my leftover cube steak with sauteed mushrooms and onions (thank goodness for leftovers - I can't bring myself to eat morning foods most days). I pondered long and hard about the state of ethics in the 'great' state of Utah, and how the hegemonic control that the Republican Party has over the government in this state is embarrassing to all involved.

One need only look at the calibre of individual we keep sending back to Salt Lake to realize how foolish we as a whole have been. We have people like Greg Hughes, who was let off of his ethics hearing for a technicality - even though it was obvious to anyone with eyes and two brain cells to rub together that he'd tried to bribe his fellow State Senator with money from the invasing pro-vouchers group. People like Chris Buttars, whose tenure in the State Capitol has been rife with racism (and the real kind - not just stuff made up by pundits to repudiate people with differing views), bigotry against homosexuals, misogyny, and hate. People like Greg Curtis, who has ruled over the State Capitol like some despotic Napoleon, strutting about like the cock of the henhouse, spouting venom-filled invectives at anyone who disagrees with him.

The first thing we need to do is stop electing these foolhardy people as our representatives. It's time to look for people who will genuinely endeavor to put their constituents needs and wants first, rather than run for some self-serving reason, trying to put forth their own twisted ideals, imposing upon an unwilling electorate foolish measures that are soundly repudiated once the people pull their heads out of the sand long enough to see what's happened to them. (The issue of school vouchers in Utah is a wonderful example of this - passed by a crooked legislature, attacked by and soundly refused by the people.)

However, simply electing new individuals is far from enough. There are substantive things that must be done to encourage a different tone in the politics of the state of Utah. Here are a few ideas, some from other individuals in the area (most notably Governor Huntsman, who has been pushing for ethics reform since his first campaign four years ago):

  1. Term limits. I believe that term limits should be enforced across the board, and in all levels of government - local, state, federal. Two terms in any office should be more than enough time to get your issues across - if not, you're out of luck. This is as true of city councilpeople as state senators and members of the national House of Representatives. One need look no further than the long-past-his-use Orrin Hatch to see exactly why we should create term limits - he ran on a platform that his opponent had been in Washington too long and had been 'corrupted' by it - and now is in his second term past what his predecessor had run.
  2. Time before becoming a lobbyist. Governor Huntsman has pushed to make one be out of office for at least a year before becoming a lobbyist - which happens at an alarming rate in this state. I would conjecture that it should be increased to at least two years.
  3. Public campaign funds. No longer should we donate to the candidate of our choice, giving them an alarmingly larger budget, effectively drowning the voice of better, third-party candidates. All campaign contributions should be put in a large pool, and each candidate for any office receives out of this kitty, an equal amount spread amongst all real contenders for the job. Also, no corporations or special-interest groups should be allowed to donate to campaigns in any way, shape, or form. And don't spread the lie that this is a stifling of free speech - corporations and lobbyists have all the right to speech that I do. Giving money is not an issue of free speech - it's an issue of elections ethics.

These are only three of the things that I believe would begin to put us on the right path as a state, ethically. Do I believe that any of these things will happen? Of course not, for the very reasons that Florez stated in his article. Absolute power corrupts absolutely - and their is no more absolute power in Utah politics than the Republican Party. They have become a cesspit of unethical behavior, a shell of the party they pretend to come from, a hollow shadow of anything 'Grand'. Therefore, I can only issue the same clarion call that Florez ended his editorial with:

Too many incumbent legislators have had plenty of time and chances to return the confidence and integrity voters should expect from their leaders, but they continue to ignore the people's interest for their own political career. Since they have shown an inability to change, it's up to the voters to do their duty to make change.

I encourage every single one of you to vote, and vote with your conscience, vote ethically, and come away from the voting booth with clean hands and a clean heart, knowing you have done what you could to effect ethics reform locally and nationally.


Comments
on Oct 27, 2008

At the end of the day, the wolves are guarding the henhouse. Pretty much any sort of reform is doomed to failure (and if not, it'll be nerfed and riddled with loopholes) because it would require a majority of politicians to legislate themselves out of their cushy jobs.

It's well past frustrating at this point. Pretty much the only hope is to get the general public to actually *care* about integrity, constitutionality (yeah, good luck with that), and voting. Maybe if that ever happened we'd actually have some chance at demanding "no evil" instead of "lesser evil".

Personally, I'd take those three points even further, but it's all futile discussion in the end.

on Oct 27, 2008

I'm still wondering who thought it would be a good idea for congress to vote on their own raises.

on Oct 30, 2008

Interestingly, there was an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald recently talking about the US and its moral stance.  It is kind of in keeping with this piece.  You might like to check it out here:

http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/us-fell-off-the-moral-high-ground/2008/10/28/1224956034410.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

on Oct 30, 2008

Ethics don't need reform, but people sure do.  If they can't figure out right from wrong, no amount of regulating or limiting will affect them, short of jail time.

on Oct 30, 2008

Ethics don't need reform, but people sure do.  If they can't figure out right from wrong, no amount of regulating or limiting will affect them, short of jail time.

The Chinese legalist Han Fei Tzu was one of the first to discover otherwise. People can be kept in ethical check so long as there is sufficient uncertainty as to their fate if they misbehave.

The whole concept of the inscrutable orient is a result of the discovery that honesty amongst officials can be enforced if they do not know how the ruler thinks.

Of course in a democracy with modern media this is no longer possible - marketing has seen to that. But regulation and limits can actually keep a lock on people, if applied in the appropriate circumstances.

on Oct 30, 2008

But regulation and limits can actually keep a lock on people, if applied in the appropriate circumstances.

Only when caught, unfortunately.

on Oct 30, 2008

People can be kept in ethical check so long as there is sufficient uncertainty as to their fate if they misbehave.

Hmm.  Just want to be sure that nobody knows what crimes the death penalty applies to, or make sure that it applies occasionally to traffic tickets and occasionally to murder.  Sounds like Mao's or Saddam's approach.

on Nov 03, 2008

Hmm.  Just want to be sure that nobody knows what crimes the death penalty applies to, or make sure that it applies occasionally to traffic tickets and occasionally to murder.  Sounds like Mao's or Saddam's approach.

The uncertainty is only supposed to apply to the advisers; the regular people have fixed laws, so that their natural immorality is curbed. Han Fei Tzu was no idiot, but he was definitely an odd one. You should have a read - most translations are quite well written, and it's only short.

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