Here's a draft of our Tuesday editorial:
Usually, when the words “Idaho Legislature” and “ethics” wind up in the same sentence, things end badly.
Today, we present and praise the exception to the rule.
When the Legislature’s large freshman class meets for orientation this week, the newcomers will spend part of Wednesday afternoon in ethics training. Since nearly a third of the 2013 Legislature has no Statehouse experience — two senators and a whopping 29 House members are newbies — Ethics 101 couldn’t be better timed.
Then, during the first week of the 2013 session, a four-hour ethics training session will be held for newcomers and veterans alike. Since several lawmakers at the heart of previous ethics controversies remain on the job, chalk this up as remedial education.
Recent legislative sessions haven’t lacked for teachable moments. Three examples, from the past two years:
• Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, chairman of the Resources and Environment Committee, presided over pivotal hearings on old and gas development. Only on the Senate floor — at the tail end of the legislative process — did Pearce disclose oil and gas leases on his property.
• Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, pushed a bill to shut off parking meters around the Statehouse — without telling colleagues that his son had racked up so many parking tickets on the Capitol Mall that his car was impounded.
• Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, was rebuked in 2011 after her intern used her state email account to drum up opposition to the Students Come First K-12 overhaul. Chew admitted the mailing was a mistake.
These ethical lapses were all well known heading into last month’s elections, but each of these incumbents won with more than 60 percent of the vote. Ethical problems make for unflattering headlines, but, obviously, they don’t necessarily cost incumbents their jobs.
In such a political climate, it’s that much more tempting to cut corners and shade the rules. And so it’s all the more important that lawmakers hold themselves accountable.
That’s why the ethics training, this week and next month, is both overdue and encouraging. Ethical lapses reflect badly on the culprits and the institution. Even if the voters don’t consider these fireable offenses, ethical problems erode the public trust. And even if the lessons ought to be obvious — disclose conflicts of interest, use state email accounts and legislative letterhead appropriately — this training could make ethics a top-of-mind consideration.
As it should always be.