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Opinion

An Ethical Epiphany in the Legislature ?

I just searched Senator John Campbell’s official State website and typed in “ethics.” The site yielded “no results” and urged me to check my spelling.

Campbell has been an outspoken opponent of establishing ethical oversight for the legislature until his recent epiphany inspiredby the arrest of Senator Norm McAllister led to an abrupt about-face. He now stresses the need for such a panel in his word to “…provide a forum to clear your name when accused by a journalist or blogger.”

This would seem to make ethical guidelines and oversight merely an absolution mechanism to buff the tarnished reputation of a legislator called out in the press for an ethical lapse. But the Pro Tem may need that after lobbying for the creation of a deputy state’s attorney position, for which he was hired without a job posting or interview.

I know, America is exceptional and Vermont is special, so why all the fuss about ethics? We’re above it. We’re small, trustworthy and transparent… except when we’re not.

Like everyone else, we Vermonters have our share of ethical lapses. In spite of our political and environmental self-regard, we’re just as subject to human frailty as anyone else.

Opposition to establishing ethical legislative guidelines and a body to interpret and enforce them is, in itself, highly suspect. People, businesses, and institutions all have laws and precepts they must follow. It should be no different in a citizen legislature where the people’s business is conducted.

Trust in American institutions is eroding. The approval rating for our highest legislative body is under 18%. Our highest judicial body has wrought havoc with the democratic electoral process. The projected budget for an election 18 months away, is estimated at five plus billion dollars, or what the legislature just passed for Vermont’s annual budget.

We’re not special. We’re imperfect beings, trying to make our way in a complex and challenging world. We need guide posts.

It’s sad that economic predation and alleged sexual assualts by one of our own becomes the dubious impetus for ethical reform, rather than the Pro Tem having the courage to urge adoption in the Senate of the same ethics rule adopted by the House last year.

Ethics is about doing the people’s business not one’s own. We need only look across the Lake at a legislature infamous for corruption to see our own endgame if we don’t have the courage to move ahead.

Corruption’s slope may not be like McAllister’s double-black-diamond downfall; it’s a slow and easy practice slope but can be just as deadly.

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