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Bob Sojka

Most professions have ethics codes that define standards of conduct and quality. Honorable professions ungrudgingly adhere to such codes, with commitment befitting the intelligence, preparation, expertise, care, and integrity expected by those the profession serves.

Ethics codes typically have several facets. One prescribes the due diligence necessary to produce outcomes, products or services. Standards are based on known methodologies for achieving and verifying quality outcomes.

Another facet demands fair acknowledgement and reward of all involved in idea generation and project accomplishment. Professionals are also prohibited from obstructing others seeking similar accomplishments. Instead codes generally encourage collaboration and even mentorship. This accelerates accomplishment of goals to the betterment of mankind, while growing and uplifting the profession itself.

A fine line separates competitiveness between professional teams and the overall profession’s moral obligation to humanity’s common good derived from the profession at large.

It gets more complicated in our capitalistic, nationalistic and politicized world. Each of these societal characteristics promotes individual advantages ahead of rival entities. This is despite a clear, virtually universal moral code that supposedly places duties to humanity above profit, nationalism (tribalism), or political philosophy.

Fortunately, there are notable historic examples of humans rising above mercenary, tribal, and metaphysical competition. Lamentably, such altruism and solidarity is somewhat rare. It does happen on a modest scale when the tug of empathy or clear community benefit mobilizes highly motivated individuals or groups to clear barriers and overcome inertia.

More often, crises devolve to catastrophic disasters or existential threats before genuinely selfless collaboration occurs. However, catastrophe can still be exacerbated if those at risk choose instead to exploit the cold calculus of rivalry. Historically that choice has often produced universal detriment instead of common benefit.

Civilization functions poorly if key individuals, enterprises, institutions, and elected- or appointed-officials aren’t trustworthy. Since political parties are the gateway to elected office and leadership of many key institutions, they also bear huge burdens of responsibility for ethical behavior in government and other organizations they insinuate themselves into. Although many Americans display apathy toward government and politics in general, they are conspicuously intolerant of ethical lapses.

Interesting national examples of that assertion have played out recently, and for years in Idaho.

GOP disdain for congressional integrity enforcement was on full display last week. Behind closed doors, Republicans overwhelmingly chose gutting ethical oversight as their highest priority target for the maiden outing of their shiny new all-red-government juggernaut. A funny thing happened to the supercharged Orkian political battlewagon on the way to the Capitol Building. The intake manifold got clogged with rotten tomatoes and spoiled cabbage hurled by wary elephants, suspicious donkeys and recently kicked newshounds.

Startled by the unexpected public reaction, GOP politicians tugged their accidentally minced body parts from the gears of their siege machine and fled the media’s klieg lights murmuring “It wasn’t’ me.”

Meanwhile, encouraging, if somewhat sotto voce (not to be confused with Sotomayor) strains of Miserere mei, Deus, resonated from Supreme Court Justice Robert’s office for failing to recuse himself from further participation in the Life Technologies Corp. vs. Promega Corp case. Apparently his stock portfolio contained a conflict of interest he’d forgotten about. Whether that’s an honest whoops daisy or not, he deserves acknowledgement for belatedly doing the right thing, even though he’d already presided over oral arguments several weeks ago. Nonetheless, it suggests flawed disclosure tracking and inadequate fail-safe protocols for such a high government official.

Hmm. Do you see any goose / gander implications there for PEOTUS?

Let’s consider Idaho rather than taking that tangent.

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Risk of a rotten produce blizzard clogging the carburetor of Idaho’s candy-apple-red-government Hummer may be increasing. The string of competency and integrity bloopers emanating from Idaho’s Treasurer Office has finally earned Ron Crane a sell-by date. Democrat “We told you so’s” are fueling brisk earplug sales in Idaho’s Capital. The slogan promises to reverberate through the 2018 election. It’d make a great bumper sticker. Or how ‘bout a billboard scandal collage featuring Correction Corporation of America, Q-West contracts, Phil Hart, John McGee, Monty Pearce, Jack Noble, Idaho Fish and Game controversies, etc.

If that’s not enough, in 2012 and 2015 Idaho earned overall D- integrity ratings from The Center for Public Integrity. This included F ratings for State Civil Service Management, Ethics Enforcement Agencies, State Pension Fund Management, Executive Accountability, Legislative Accountability, and Judicial Accountability. Remaining ratings were D- for Public Access to Information, D+ for Political Financing, Procurement, and Lobbying Disclosure, B for Electoral Oversight and Internal Auditing. State Budget Processes earned the only A.

Predictably the F for Ethics Enforcement Agencies was coupled with a national ranking of 49th.

It bears repeating that if you’re dissatisfied with Idaho governance, you are by default dissatisfied with Idaho’s GOP. Why? Because they’ve had a power lock on Idaho government for decades.

Democrats have attempted to collaborate with the GOP to improve Idaho’s ethics oversight and enforcement framework. That outreach hasn’t been reciprocated.

In South Dakota, another GOP-controlled state, the electorate took matters into their own hands, passing an ethics reform initiative. But guess what? Their legislature wants to overturn the initiative.

Do you see a scarlet pattern emerging?

Idaho desperately needs stronger ethics oversight and enforcement. Mandatory disclosure of financial involvements by candidates for elective or appointed office is a good starting point. Conflict of interest regulations in Idaho’s Ethics in Government Manual should also be bolstered to mandate recusal of elected officials from writing, influencing (positively or negatively) or voting on legislation for which they have conflicts of interest.

Bob Sojka is chairman of the Twin Falls County Democratic Party.


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