News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion

April 29, 2013

GUEST EDITORIAL: General Assembly puts self-interests ahead of Hoosiers’ best interests

INDIANAPOLIS — One obvious answer to the rampant promotion of personal interests in the Indiana General Assembly is greater transparency.

Report all outside income and financial ties. Make clear exactly whom campaign contributions and other gifts come from, and stop allowing influence-seekers to hide their activities under surrogate names. End the insulting practice of letting meals bought by lobbyists for legislators go unreported unless they cost more than $50.

Common sense and basic ethics. Yet there’s no sign of movement into such sunlight, despite a flurry of media attention to the ingrained coziness between lawmakers and special interests.

Nor — and this may be the key — is there much embarrassment about conflicts even when they’re exposed.

Two egregious examples made the news last week.

The coal industry won protection, at the expense of consumers, thanks to two legislators who hold high-level jobs in coal and the railroads that haul it.

A lobbyist for a company seeking a multimillion-dollar state contract got help from her father, a House leader, just a week after the governor placed a hold on state aid the lawmaker reportedly helped obtain for his son’s company.

In both instances, the elected officials insisted they were objective stewards of the public’s will and wouldn’t dream of acting out of personal interest.

The stakes are especially high in the case of the Rockport coal-to-gas conversion project, a nearly $3 billion deal that will cost utility ratepayers dearly if the price of natural gas, now low by historical standards, does not rise over time.

State Sen. James Merritt, R-Indianapolis, chairman of the Senate Utility Committee, and Rep. Matt Ubelhor, R-Bloomfield, succeeded in turning back efforts by both parties to add consumer protections to the Rockport bill.

The Senate passed the bill; the House sponsor, Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, declined to call it for a vote because she didn’t care for the watering-down.

The proposed safeguards just didn’t make good policy, insisted Merritt, who is a vice president with Indiana Rail Road Co., and Ubelhor, who is operations manager for Peabody Energy. Their employers echoed those sentiments to The Star’s Tony Cook.

That same proclamation of pure impartiality was expressed by House Speaker Pro Tempore Eric Turner, R-Cicero, regarding the company for which his daughter just happens to be a lobbyist and the company his son just happens to head.

In neither of these cases did the legislators involved broadcast their personal ties to the lobbies or offer to recuse themselves from the proceedings. In some states, potential conflicts such as these would raise red flags and force at least the consideration of recusal — and without having to be ferreted out by the press. In Indiana, the typical response to calls for these and other reforms is wounded indignation.

The primary defense offered for the Indiana situation is that a part-time legislature inevitably feels the intrusion of day jobs, and thus the challenge of staying neutral. The preponderance of evidence, particularly as detailed in a recent series of columns by The Star’s Matthew Tully, is that the challenge is not being met and the intrusions are a fact of Statehouse life. As Julia Vaughn of the citizens lobby Common Cause points out, many states manage to have citizen legislatures without cutting slack over conflict of interest.

Stringent rules, rather than blind trust, are a fact of life in other realms of government. Transparency. Money limits. Distancing from one’s employers, benefactors and family. Barring a change in human nature and a reversal of Indiana history, there is no excuse for not writing stronger protections, in all those areas, into law.

— The Indianapolis Star

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Opinion
Latest News
TribStar.com Poll
AP Video
Raw: Truck, Train Crash Leads to Fireball Judge Ponders Overturning Colo. Gay Marriage Ban Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts Raw: Israel Hits Gaza Targets, Destroys Mosques Obama Signs Workforce Training Law Diplomatic Push Intensifies to End War in Gaza Raw: Lawmakers Scuffle in Ukraine's Parliament Police Probing Brooklyn Bridge Flag Switch US Official: Most Migrant Children to Be Removed Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza US Airlines Cancel Israel Flights Raw: Massive Explosion in Gaza City Courts Conflicted Over Healthcare Law Crash Victims' Remains Reach Ukraine-held City Raw: MH17 Passenger Remains in Kharkiv, Ukraine NYPD Chief Calls for 'use of Force' Retraining CDC Head Concerned About a Post-antibiotic Era Raw: First Lady Says `Drink Up' More Water VA Nominee McDonald Goes Before Congress
NDN Video
Shirtless Super Mario Balotelli Dances While Ironing - @TheBuzzeronFOX CDC Director Warns Of A World Where Antibiotics No Longer Work LeBron apologizes to neighbors with cupcakes Justin Bieber In Calvin Klein Underwear Shoot Samsung Pre-Trolls The IPhone 6 With New Ad Jimmy Kimmel Introduces His Baby Girl Swim Daily, Nina Agdal in the Cook Islands Guilty Dog Apologizes to Baby for Stealing Her Toy Prince George Turns 1 and is Already a Trendsetter Train Collides With Semi Truck Carrying Lighter Fluid Kanye West Tells-All on Wedding in "GQ" Interview Tony Dungy Weighs in on Michael Sam Scarlett Johansson Set To Marry In August New Star Wars Episode XII X-Wing Revealed Obama: Putin must push separatists to aid MH17 probe Michigan inmates no longer allowed to wear orange due to 'OITNB' Adam Levine Ties the Knot Sebastian The Ibis Walks Beautiful Bride Down The Aisle | ACC Must See Moment NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Faces of Souls Lost in Malaysian Plane Crash
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -

     

    March 12, 2010

activity