Ethics legislation: Easy to discuss, harder to enact
Being and becoming an Arkansas state lawmaker just keeps getting harder and harder these days.
With the United States of America ending its successful trial against former state Senator Jon Woods and others in the scandal involving General Improvement Funds (GIF monies), there is now even more talk about e-t-h-i-c-s from the newly selected leaders of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the Arkansas State Senate for the upcoming legislative sessions beginning in 2019.
And as we near the September 1st final run of Campaign 2018 — we will see a fever-pitch sprint to the November General Election, no doubt, with both Parties trying to talk about ethics legislation.
But let me be very straight forward.
Ethics talk is cheap. Ethics rules, real ethics rules, are hard to pass. Such rules are hard to even formulate, given the past history of the Arkansas Legislature — since — well since long before the Democratic Party succeeded the majority status to the Arkansas Republican Party, less than a half-decade ago.
The real factor in ethics legislation is not how?
But, simply, when?
When do new rules, negate those bad, old rules that were in place that really didn’t mean anything.
It is always the “loopholes” that make ethics legislation hard to enforce, understand. It is these “loopholes,” that leave out really punitive measures designed to drive these offenders out of public office.
Like right now, for example. Both parties have a rule that if —and this is a big if — a lawmaker is indicted, as in under indictment by the federal government – that lawmaker will have to give up “leadership” roles in their House or Senate seat.
He will not have to resign. Just give up “leadership roles.” So you can still serve under indictment?
It will take a really “hard move” by both the House and the Senate members to drive out a fellow member.
It is easy for those foes of the member, who seem to have committed an indiscretion so severe that an indictment seems possibly coming in the near future, to criticize and call for a resignation.
But there is always that “innocent until proven guilty,” standard that keeps us all at bay — as it should.
Also the other 34 state Senators or 99 House members may have a very hard time — un-ringing the bell of the voters’ choice — to throw out a House or Senate member.
It has been done in the past. But oh, so infrequently, those procedures to do so are fuzzy at best.
It could, however, come to that same standard soon, if an indictment is forthcoming for an elected official unveiled this past week. The lawmaker’s own defense attorney, said that the elected official is indeed “Senator A,” as described by a criminal defendant taking a plea agreement for his role in a scheme to defraud taxpayers and enrich others.
Ethics, as I have said, is a sticky situation.
If you have unethical people – those who will cheat the system, lie, defraud and outright hatch schemes to enrich themselves via tax dollars – imposing ethical rules, standards, and penalties and then make the other politicians, who will not be so bold as the accused to level penalties upon them — including expulsion — is a high, hard standard to achieve.
Most of the ones found guilty or having pleaded guilty when these schemes were unfolded for public view by the federal government were either out of office, often choosing not to run for re-election, or were elected to another nonstate office.
And then there are the “connections” we all know that exist in Arkansas.
At least our governor has cleared the air, in a way. This past week he said:
“I have previously stated that public servants must be held accountable and if someone is charged with a crime, they should immediately resign,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said.
We shall watch and wait for the charges to be filed.
But waiting on ethics rules to drive out these solons from the midst of the legislature is an even longer wait with much less certainty than a federal indictment.