In the Primary Election just held, a question on the ballot dealt with the issue of money paid by lobbyists to members of the General Assembly. I am on record being in favor of making major changes to the way reporting is done and the amount of money allowed to be given from lobbyists to lawmakers. We are hearing that the leadership in the House of Representatives under the Gold Dome is now open to looking at legislation to place a cap on the amount that can be received by lawmakers. We are moving in a positive direction as this has been a goal I have held for many years.
The major issue, however, is not the amount of money that is allowed to be given, the reporting of the money, or where the money comes from and how the votes will be placed. The major issue is one of ethics -- doing right and being right because there is a core value in a person to want to do the right thing.
As long as people have been around, there are those who look for a loophole or a way to get around doing what is required. The lower salary of the lawmakers and the demands on their time can be an open door of temptation to take more than is allowed or sell ones vote to the highest bidder. In no way am I suggesting that lawmakers are less than human, or more than human. We all make mistakes. We can all be tempted to do the wrong thing or look the other way while someone else is committing a wrong. The history of the human race is filled with much evidence that even with strict accountability standards, some people will attempt to get around the law.
Honest mistakes are made in the rush of serving. I will grant that, but when there is evidence of continual actions bordering on breaking the rules, it calls for an open and honest evaluation of the system. While much can be said for seniority and length of service in a position, I suggest the time is now when the system of assigning a person to a committee as Chair of that committee over long years might open the door for further breaking of the rules. It could be that in both the House and Senate, the assignments as to the person serving as Chairman of a committee will be placed on a rotating basis, rather than a permanent assignment. Senator Pro Tempore Tommy Williams has announced he is stepping aside from his role to allow someone else to move into that powerful position. Senator Williams is setting the example that would be great for others to follow.
From where I stand, we can conclude that honest mistakes are made, and temptation is real, but as soon as those occur and are discovered, full disclosure would go a long way to restore trust by the citizens in the process.
Follow Ray Newman on Twitter @RayNewmanSr
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