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Opinion: Another senator finds gold in them there executive appointments

Opinion: Another senator finds gold in them there executive appointments

Wayne Hoffman
June 12, 2015

It’s happening again. Less than a month after Gov. Butch Otter rewarded politician-turned-lobbyist Bob Geddes with a new state job and lucrative pension, the governor also juiced up the retirement portfolio of Dean Cameron, Senate Finance Committee chairman, appointing the 13-term Rupert Republican to run the state Department of Insurance. Cameron’s new job begins Monday, June 15.

If Cameron remains on the state payroll for 42 months, he’ll likely be able to turn an $8,500 a year pension into one that delivers $55,000 a year in retirement.

After Otter announced Cameron’s ascension into the government bureaucracy, some of his colleagues were quick to heap praise on Cameron and flog Idaho Freedom Foundation for continuing to talk about the pension padding and political payoffs.

Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, wrote on his Facebook page that IFF failed to praise Cameron’s years in public service, and penned that it’s a product of “mean-spiritedness and calumny” in the journalism world in which IFF’s IdahoReporter.com is a participant.

Hartgen is chairman of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee, the gatekeeper of pension reform proposals like this one.

Hartgen, a former editor and publisher of the Twin Falls Times News, will note that even liberal news publications—the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Falls Post Register—have recently opined that the political payoffs to legislators that have become common should be eliminated from state law.

The Lewiston newspaper gives one of the best reasons to eliminate the perk: damage to legislative independence and oversight. “Every time the governor calls, a lawmaker confronts a potential conflict of interest between his constituents and his own well-being,” wrote opinion editor Marty Trillhaase.

In current terms, during the course of the last eight years, the Otter administration has been met with eye-popping allegations of either mismanagement or misconduct in the Tax Commission, Department of Administration, Department of Correction, Department of Juvenile Corrections, the Department of Health and Welfare and, most recently, the Idaho State Police.

The legislative branch is supposed to be independent enough to ask tough questions about what state agencies are doing and why. Lawmakers are able to ask tough questions, but they’re otherwise unwilling. The Senate, in particular, has authority to review gubernatorial appointments and confirm or re-confirm those appointments.

The fact that any legislator could become a political appointee at any time has a chilling effect on the likelihood those who stand to benefit will ever ask the hard questions. Idaho lawmakers have become mere marionettes in the executive branch’s pension puppet show.

This isn’t about Dean Cameron or what he did or didn’t do as a state senator or as chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee. This is about the existence of a special political payout that exists in state law and shouldn’t. Cameron is only the latest in a long line of recipients of this special political perk.

During the last legislative session, the state House of Representatives voted to do away with this offensive incentive, but the state Senate refused to consider the proposal.

So far this year, three former state senators have entered an exclusive club within the state bureaucracy that leads to poshest of pensions: A pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, sponsored and defended by the Idaho Legislature and funded by Idaho taxpayers.

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