Monday, December 26, 2011

Editorial: Ethics and the Legislature

The unnamed editor high-fives Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery for advocating some technical legal changes to clarify rules and keep lobbyists from offering and legislators from accepting the kind of "gifts" that led to the Fiesta Bowl imbroglio. He intones thusly, "Herein lies an ethic. Elected officials serve the public and its best interests. Their constituents give them a gift when they elect them to office."
   Leaving aside  the endless frustration, public suspicion and flak that make up the largest part of this "gift," it's ironic that the editor can manufacture umbrage over the small potatoes of the Fiesta Bowl tickets while actively encouraging the vast suspension of ethics that our political culture has become.
  Should we really care about football tickets when huge international corporations are legally allowed more influence in our state and national governments than our citizens, or when we collectively attend far more to celebrity and advertising than policy or wisdom in choosing the people who will guide our future?
    Rules to prevent legislators from accepting a gift do nothing to keep people who would sell themselves so cheaply out of office. If anything they'll just find another way to get it.
     It's unrealistic to expect office-holders to act more ethically than the people who sent them there. Unless voters can get up off the couch and elect people who care most about making life better for all of us, who put service ahead of profit, who are unafraid of pressure and excited about doing the homework, our Legislature will be just as lazy and short-sighted as the rest of us.
   Imagining that a free football ticket will do anything real to change a vote in the Legislature is ridiculous. It's far more important to build a culture of collegial debate over serious public-policy issues, because the sort of person who cares about that will naturally and easily discredit anyone coming to him with trinkets and flattery. It's junior high down there now, because people like the editor care more about the color of a candidate's team jersey or what she's willing to say publicly about a litmus-test non-issue than how he works with people, maintains an open mind or does the mountains of homework. Let's get above the small stuff and talk about intelligence and commitment.
   The editor can show just how much he cares about ethics when it comes time for him to endorse a presidential candidate. Keep an eye out.

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