Ethics on the ballot: Do our reps really need a babysitter?

Most Utahans can believe in the uprightness of governmental candidates and representatives. But many a realistic, or possibly pessimistic, person believes that our representation cannot be trusted once money is involved. Upset that political processes have turned otherwise decent men and women into money-hungry, corrupt politicians, Utahans can vote to allow legislature to create an independent ethics commission.

Utah State Constitutional Amendment D would create a five-member committee to handle ethical complaints from both legislative houses. Issues like improper campaign financing and gifts from lobbyists would now be worked through via this super team of ethical evaluators. This ballot issue may not be sure win, though.

Yes and no

This commission’s establishment has become one of the more debated measures on the ballot this year.

Constitutional Amendment D got onto the ballot relatively easily and passed in both houses with nearly unanimous votes in March of this year, but the handful of Legislative opponents’ major points about the Ethics Reform strike a sort of chord with likely voters.

One of the main arguments against the establishment of an Ethics Commission is that the voters already act as an ethics commission by either voting unethical representatives out of office, or avoiding voting them into office. The necessary moral compass belongs to the voters, not the legislature.

The committee would probably act as a sort of ethics babysitter while legislatures are in office and may be necessary to keep a closer eye on our representation. Proponents in legislature like GOP Sen. John Valentine say if there were a commission, these complaints would be handled properly as far as punishments are concerned. Of course, Amendment D is still very much supported in the legislature, and public concern with ethics of those elected is still very prevalent.

The public is still taking action

Many potential voters and prominent Utahans have supported ethics-oriented political action committees like Utahans for Ethical Government, which petitioned almost concurrently with the ballot measure’s legislation. The group has been acquiring signatures at festivals, grocery stores, online and plenty of other places since fall of 2009. They failed to gain the 95,000 signatures for the current election cycle, but are still working towards reform.

UEG, however, sees the language in the measure as a very broad jumping off point that could help with future legislation.

“This plain language is entirely consistent with UEG’s proposed initiative and, in fact, that initiative easily could be just such a future legislative enactment, the ‘legislative oil’ which would fill this ‘constitutional vessel,’” UEG said in a statement about Amendment D.

UEG is still working on their own initiatives even with their support of Amendment D and have more than 110,000 supporters for an initiative on the 2012 ballot.

While the public makes their decision on this and other issues on Nov. 2, the needed concern for governmental integrity and oversight will remain and likely continue.

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