Friday, November 21, 2008

More sunshine

When advocates of sunshine in government appeal to Idaho legislators for more transparency in public affairs, lawmakers generally respond by saying they're honest and therefore new laws requiring more accountability are unneeded.

In other words, "trust us."

That's not good enough.

If Idaho government is so ethics-pure, then lawmakers should have no worry about opening up activities and chambers for even greater scrutiny by the public that pays for their services.

Several legislators, Republican and Democrat alike, agree. Their reactions come in the wake of an audit of state governments by the Chicago-based Better Government Association, an 85-year-old nonpartisan organization devoted to more government accountability, that gave Idaho troubling scores on its "integrity index."

Overall, Idaho was ranked 44th among the 50 states and District of Columbia.

It was "zero" in the conflict-of-interest ranking as one of only four states not requiring legislators to reveal personal finances. Idaho lawmakers routinely vote on bills affecting their livelihood without excusing themselves.

It was 24th in open records laws, 29th in campaign finance requirements. It did better with whistle-blower legislation—ninth in the nation.

Republican state Sen. Mike Jorgenson of Hayden Lake and Democratic state Rep. Kate Kelly of Boise reflected on the need for improvement. "Too much gray area" in the opening meetings law, Jorgenson said. "Doesn't come as a surprise," Kelly said of the rankings.

Government is not the personal plaything of elected or appointed officials. It belongs to the public.

Further defiance of treating the public trust with disrespect will only lead to the obvious—a loss of pubic trust. It's time to let more sunshine in.

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