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Eye On Boise

Ethics training: Problem, perception…

Political scientist and former Missouri state Sen. Jeffrey Smith speaks to Idaho lawmakers at ethics training session on Wednesday (Betsy Russell)
Political scientist and former Missouri state Sen. Jeffrey Smith speaks to Idaho lawmakers at ethics training session on Wednesday (Betsy Russell)

By my count, there are about 135 people gathered in the Lincoln Auditorium for the Legislature’s mandatory ethics training this afternoon, though not all are legislators; the session is mandatory for the 105 senators and representatives. Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, thanked them all for coming, adding amid laughter, “not that you had any choice.” Hill said that ethics is not just a matter of law; it’s a matter of character.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, told the group, “There’s not a huge problem in Idaho – I don’t think there is. I know most of you well, I know your hearts. But there are things we can do to improve.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, asked, “’Those politicians’ – how many times have you heard that at home?” He said, “Scott says it’s not a huge problem here in Idaho, but if you listen to what people say, the perception is.” He thanked legislative leaders for arranging the session, to “continue to remind us of this aspect of our role as public servants.”

Hill introduced the first speaker, Jeffrey Smith, an assistant professor at the Milano School of International Affairs and former instructor at Washington University and Dartmouth College. Hill said he and Rusche attended a two-day ethics conference in October, and he was most affected by Smith’s presentation. Here, Smith, a dynamic speaker, author and former Missouri senator, addresses the crowd, beginning with the story of how he began raising funds for a political run. On the screen, and as yet unexplained, is a picture of him as part of a work crew at a federal prison.

As it turned out, a campaign finance violation that followed several misjudgments in his first, unsuccessful campaign for office, five years later landed him in prison for almost a year, at a time when he was a successful state senator. When he arrived at prison and gave his age, 35; his level of education, PhD; and his last occupation, state senator; the woman processing him made this comment: "She said, 'All right - we got ones here think they're Jesus Christ, so you oughta fit right in.'"

"I made a big mistake," Smith told the lawmakers. "You should just never want to have a conversation with anyone that you don't want to have a U.S. Attorney listen to. ... Know the spirit and the letter of the law, and adhere to it."

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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