Democrats really want Republicans to join in with their ethics reform plans.
At their response to Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State address Tuesday, House and Senate Democrats invited their GOP colleagues to come on board in reforming the ethics process, even while delivering stern reprimands of recent behavior by some legislators.
It's the second time in less than a week Democrats have asked Republicans to jump on the ethics reform bandwagon. At the yearly legislative preview last week, House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told reporters his party would lead reform efforts, but that some Republican support would be helpful.
At the same event, Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, speaker of the Idaho House, said the GOP is willing to look at ethics proposals, but could not comment on what the Democrats have in mind since he had not seen anything specific.
Democrats haven’t revealed many details about the ethics changes, but have said they plan to create an independent commission to review complaints against lawmakers and other government officers.
At the Capitol Tuesday, however, the Democrats had some harsh words for their Republican counterparts along with the requests for aid. Rusche scoffed at Otter's lack of references to ethics reforms in Monday's speech and said it's time for the Legislature to fix the ways of “arrogant” lawmakers and some GOP figures.
Even with the rough words, Rusche appealed to Republicans looking to clean up their own party. “We invite the majority party to partner with us and show we are ready to face the ethical issues head-on and begin to restore the confidence of the people in our state institutions,” Rusche said.
When asked why Democrats are seeking ethics changes, Rusche replied that Idahoans are lacking faith in government because of recent legislator lapses. “It destroys democracy,” Rusche said of recent ethical lapses. “It’s important that people have confidence … that they have public servants that serve the public.”
Rusche wouldn’t name specific legislators who might be bringing on ethics changes, but Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, did. He pointed to Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who has come under fire in recent years for failing to pay his state and federal taxes. It has also been revealed that Hart illegally took timber from state endowment lands in order to build his log home a number of years ago.
“We have requested numerous times that action be taken to take him to task to pay taxes, whether federal or state, and nothing has been done,” Bock explained. “If you’re asking why now, it’s really out of frustration.”
Democrats have also indirectly pointed to Republican Sens. Curt McKenzie,Nampa, and John McGee,Caldwell, as examples of bad behavior. The two senators took per diem payments for maintained second residences during the 2011 legislative session, but both allegedly slept rent free at different locations. McKenzie reportedly slept on the couch in hisBoiselaw office, while McGee slept with his parents.
Another incident involving an unelected public figure also raised questions about moving from the public sector straight into a lobbying position in the private sector. Gov. Butch Otter’s chief of staff, Jason Kreizenbeck, recently resigned his position to join one of the largest lobbying firms inIdaho.
Rusche said that the reforms are bigger than one man. “It isn’t about Phil Hart. It isn’t about any specific legislator,” Rusche said. “It’s about a culture. Culture’s a hard thing to change and it takes a long time, but it is my belief we have a culture that is sick.”
Democrats plan to release the bill to create the ethics commission within a week or so, but haven’t given a timetable on when they plan to bring the rest of the reform measures. Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, has worked to craft the commission legislation and says she wants something affordable but effective in the panel.