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The ethics tit-for-tat…

Click below to read AP reporter John Miller's full story on today's tit-for-tat over ethics among Republicans and Democrats, as they move haltingly toward a bipartisan effort to craft a bill setting up Idaho's first independent state ethics commission. The bipartisan House-Senate working group that will work on the bill is expected to start meeting next week.


In ethics tit-for-tat, GOP blasts Idaho Dems
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press


BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The House's top Republican on Friday suggested Democrats' charges that Idaho's dominant GOP has fostered a “culture of corruption and cronyism” could damage efforts by the two sides to create an independent ethics commission.

“Incendiary language crafted by the Democrats, like 'culture of corruption,' will make it difficult for the two sides to work together for the betterment of our constituents and to ensure the integrity of the Idaho Legislature,” House Speaker Lawerence Denney wrote in a letter to Idaho newspapers.

On Monday, Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant criticized Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter for not reining in alleged transgressions, citing:

— Rep. Phil Hart, the tax-protesting GOP lawmaker who survived ethics scrutiny in the House in 2011.

— Royce Chigbrow, the State Tax Commission chairman and Otter appointee who resigned in 2011 after employees accused him of helping family and friends.

Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane, whose use of a state gas card is being investigated by a county prosecutor.

“The culture of corruption and cronyism that has taken root in the GOP requires a leader who will put his foot down,” Grant wrote.

In Friday's response, Denney, R-Midvale, cited what he termed Democrats' own ethical lapses that show neither party is immune to scrutiny, including a reference to Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise, using her taxpayer-funded legislative email account to drum up opposition to public schools chief Tom Luna's “Students Come First” educational reforms.

“In many private sector firms, using company resources for political causes is a fireable offense,” Denney wrote. “Both sides —Republicans and Democrats — make mistakes or even cross the line into the camp of ethical lapses of judgment.”

Democratic lawmakers have made creating an independent panel to review complaints against lawmakers or state officials a top 2012 priority. Forty-one states have such commissions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans have agreed to seek a compromise, and a working group is being formed from the Senate and House.

In an interview, Denney says he's still hopeful they'll succeed.

“I would like to have a culture of cooperation,” he said Friday in his Idaho Capitol office. “Putting this committee together is an important first step.”

Reps. Phylis King and Cherie Buckner-Webb, both of Boise, were named Democratic members of the working group. House Republicans will be Reps. Brent Crane and Eric Simpson, of Nampa and Idaho Falls, respectively. Crane is Treasurer Ron Crane's son.

Senators will include Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, though others aren't yet public.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said Denney's letter calling out Chew's May 12 emails underscores the need for an independent ethics panel, because restoring faith in government is an issue both sides should embrace.

“If there are things that we (the Democratic Party) are doing that impacts people's confidence in government, then we should be called to account,” Rusche said. “This isn't about individuals; this is about institutions and government, and how we serve our people.”

Rusche added he admonished Chew not to send such emails from her state account.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said Friday he's willing to work with Democrats — if they don't resort to name calling. The working group's first meeting, which isn't yet scheduled, will set the tone for what happens next, he said.

“If there is rhetoric that trashes individuals or parties, there will not be a second meeting,” Hill said.

Still, some Democratic lawmakers think the strident tone they've struck has borne fruit.

Sen. Elliot Werk, a Boise Democrat among the most vocal of his party's GOP critics, contends tough language has spurred Republicans to recognize the need for reforms.

“The Republican Party has created this culture (because) they've been in complete control of state government for two decades,” Werk said. “In order to get the attention of those people, sometimes you have to use language that might be upsetting to help them recognize that there could be an issue.”

Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello, said he can't control what individual members of his Senate caucus say or how they say it, but he'll urge them to mind their manners to not to poison the bipartisan mood.

“I don't want to do anything to undermine that effort,” Malepeai said.


Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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