Times-News: Idaho Politics Needs a Bath

If Gov. Otter thought his poor record would be forgotten after the election, he’s disappointed.

If the governor doesn’t correct course, if he doesn’t make better decisions, if he break free from the grip of special interests and lobbyists that have grown up around him, we all suffer. Here’s a editorial reminding Otter what needs to be fixed from the Times-News:

Our View: Corruption Stinks, and Idaho Needs a Bath

Times-News Editorial Board | November 28, 2014

Good old boy politics has a certain stink, and Idaho reeks to high heavens. Lawmakers must toss aside decades of neglect, do their jobs and grab the deodorant stat.

Over the past few months, sweetheart deals surfaced that were orchestrated by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s administration with Correction Corporation of America, which bilked taxpayers out of millions, and CenturyLink, over the Idaho Education Network. They’re merely the most recent examples of small-town-style politics run amok at the state level.

Lawmakers, Cabinet members and plugged-in political staff for years have reinvented themselves as lobbyists. Neither lawmakers nor executive officials report their personal finances. There’s not even a state ethics panel to create the appearance that corruption isn’t tolerated. Rectifying these shortcomings would be a much-needed start to what’s broken.

Idaho is a failing state, run by special interests and elected officials regulated only by the honor system.

Idaho’s systems to combat corruption rank 41st nationally, says a recent State Integrity Investigation study funded by good-government and media groups.

The state notably got an “F” for executive-level and legislative accountability. The few regulations governing conflicts of interest in the Governor’s Office are ineffective, researchers found. And Idaho is one of only three states in which lawmakers don’t have to disclose their finances.

It’s a structure designed to protect backroom dealing. Only a lawmaker’s conscience stands between transparent governance and outright, self-interested, malfeasance.

Even more frustrating, lawmakers don’t practice what they preach. A law adopted earlier this year permits the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate county-level corruption. All the while, Boise soldiers on in its governance for the few funded by everyone else.

Requiring all elected officials to report their personal finances would be a small but important step toward righting the widespread corruption that’s run rampant in Idaho for years. A bill doing just that passed the state Senate in 2009 only to die in the House, when Secretary of State-elect Lawerence Denney dominated the floor as speaker.

Speaker Scott Bedke should reintroduce the bill, especially now that members of his own political circle are furious over the Otter administration’s gifts to campaign backers CenturyLink and CCA. Bedke’s bill should include all state-level elected officials. Even a governor’s veto would speak volumes and position Bedke on the right side of an issue that’s finally catching the public’s eye.

An ethics panel composed of judges and prosecutors would be another leap forward. But, as shown in many states, such bodies tend to be politically dominated paper tigers. Only subpoena power, the ability to refer criminal findings to federal prosecutors, and an appointment process involving the Legislature, Attorney General’s Office and the executive, will provide any teeth. Any ethics panel is worthless without real independence. Funding the panel for years in advance would avoid interference from state officials itching to kill image-gutting investigations.

Idahoans shouldn’t have to constantly turn up their noses at the stench permeating from the Statehouse. Idaho needs a bath, and only the Legislature can draw the water.

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