The Republicans belatedly embrace ethics reform: UPDATED

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Heidi Scheuermann, is a “founding partner” in Campaign for Vermont. This doesn’t qualify as an ethical breach, strictly speaking; but she’s clearly using her official position to promote an organization in which she is a prominent member. I think her CFV membership should be noted when she seeks to promote its agenda within the Legislature.

There’s a bill before the House to enact new ethical guidelines for state lawmakers, statewide officeholders, and appointed officials. H.846 would also create a state Ethics Commission and prohibit former public officials from lobbying the Legislature for two years after leaving state government.

The bill is modeled after Campaign for Vermont’s own widely-touted ethics reform plan, and is co-sponsored by 24 Representatives. Fourteen are Republicans, nine are Dems, and one is listed as a D/R. The lead sponsor, per VTDigger, is Republican Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe.

Governor Shumlin has yet to take a public stance on the bill; he has issued carefully-worded support for ethics standards on elected officials only. Which would leave a big fat hole for gubernatorial appointees and other unelected types to slide through, as some of his former officials have done.

But our esteemed Governor doesn’t have a monopoly on convenient omissions in this sphere, not by a long shot. Today, a goodly percentage of the tiny Republican caucus is lining up behind ethics reform, but the Patron Saint of Vermont Republicanism had a very different view:

I don’t think we need a new bureaucracy to monitor the performance of our public officials. I think Vermont is a state where we can be proud of  the people that serve in all branches of government, people who for the most part are above reproach, people of integrity and people who follow the constitutional  edict of serving the public and acting in the public interest.

Yes indeed, those words came from the maw of then-Governor Jim Douglas, as quoted by the late great Peter Freyne back in April 2007.  

Douglas was in favor of a code of ethics; he just didn’t want a new body dedicated to, ahem, enforcing the code. His Administration set the bar very high for potential ethical conflicts, as many state officials crossed back and forth, and most of ’em fled state government in Douglas’ final days for cushy posts in the private and nonprofit sector, many of which involved contact with state government.

So I ask this question of Heidi Scheuermann and her fellow Republicans eager for ethics reform now that the Democrats are running the roost:

What would Jim do?  

2 thoughts on “The Republicans belatedly embrace ethics reform: UPDATED

  1. The Republicans are only embracing it now because they are in such an extreme minority

    Diamond Jim Douglas actually revised the governor’s ethics policy to incorporate a huge new loophole.  

    As noted in this  2009 diary on GMD by witchcat,  the Republican Governor took added the following language, to more or less create condone some measure of conflicts of interest:

    “WHEREAS, it is also essential to the proper operation of government that those best qualified not be discouraged from serving as public officers by requiring them to relinquish totally the opportunity to further their own interests, at least where such interests do not create irreconcilable conflicts with their official responsibilities…”

  2. but it doesn’t go far enough, or anywhere deeply enough.

    I will be very interested to see how it evolves. The devil is in the details.

    Have a look at your local ethics policy the next time you have suspicions, and see whether or not it actually covers the situation that concerns you.  Chances are good that it does not.

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