BOISE • Idaho’s Democratic legislators emphasized the need to establish a state ethics commission during their Tuesday response to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State address.
House Minority Leader Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said there have been several instances of Idaho public officials committing questionable acts, and an ethics panel is required to restore constituents’ faith in Gem State government.
Statehouse Democrats plan to introduce legislation on Thursday that would establish a bipartisan ethics panel to investigate complaints against government officials from the public. Those complaints could apply to elected officials, state agencies or any arm of the government.
Boise Democratic Sen. Les Bock cited alleged tax evasion by Rep. Phil Hart as one example of a potential ethics violation. Hart, R-Athol, is currently fighting a U.S. Department of Justice effort to foreclose on his home to collect federal income tax he owes, according to the Spokesman-Review.
But, Rusche said, “it isn’t about any specific legislator,” he said. “It’s about a culture.”
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said the ethics panel isn’t about going after Republicans.
“We put ourselves to the same litmus test,” she said.
In their response to Otter’s address, Democrats also expressed support for the governor’s proposed IGEM technology research program, making sure to point out that they had introduced a similar proposal in a failed jobs package two years earlier.
Rusche also criticized Otter’s broad, nonspecific plan to set aside $45 million in tax relief. While Democrats would like to cut taxes, Rep. Grant Burgoyne of Boise said the biggest priority should be creating jobs, and Otter’s tax plan doesn’t clearly do that.
“The issue is, what are the cons? Who are the winners and losers, and does it create jobs?” Burgoyne said.
Stennett agreed, saying she was concerned that small tax breaks wouldn’t be enough to infuse the economy with the money it needs for job growth.
But overall, Otter’s focus on jobs and education pleased Stennett.
“For me, I’m pleased to see a lot of the components of the governor’s speech,” Stennett said. Figuring out how to meet those goals, she added, will be the hard part.