Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ethics Hot Topic in Alaska these Days

Juneau Legislature studies ethics reform
LEGISLATURE: Gov. Palin releases report; lawmakers spend day in workshop.
The Associated Press

Published: January 19, 2007
Last Modified: January 19, 2007 at 02:06 AM

JUNEAU -- Gov. Sarah Palin and lawmakers agree ethics reform should be addressed in this legislative session, but to what degree and by whom is already causing some divisions.
The third day of the 25th Legislature was devoted to the issue as lawmakers attended a daylong ethics workshop while the governor held a news conference to announce a report from her two-man ad hoc ethics Cabinet.
Called "Ethics White Paper," the report was penned by former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea and Ethan Berkowitz, a former House Minority Leader and Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. [Click on the title to link to the Anchorage Daily News for the rest of this story.]

Alaska Common Ground and the League of Women Voters have been working with the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics since last May to hold two public forums (one in Anchorage and one in Juneau) using the Outside experts brought to Alaska to do the training for the legislators and for their staff. I was asked to moderate the one in Anchorage. So Friday I was doing last minute preparations - communicating with the panelists about the questions and working with Peg Tileston, director of Alaska Common Ground.

Today (Saturday) was the forum at the Anchorage Senior Center and it seemed to go off well. Our Outside expert, Butch Speer from Louisiana gave a ten minute talk that put legislative ethics into national perspective. The indictment of one of our legislators is certainly not an isolated incident. (And one of the attendees today suggested there will be more indictments here before long.) The heads of the Alaska Public Offices Committee and the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics both had ten minutes to explain what their offices do. The panelists included Butch Speer, Arlis Sturgulewski (who's had a long career of civic activity including being a State Senator), Larry Persily (editorial page editor of the Anchorage Daily News), Jim Liszka (an university dean who has a book on morality), and Herman Walker (a public member of the Select Committee on Legislative Ethics). Panelists did not give opening statements - it was all question and answer - and that seemed to move pretty well. Then the audience broke into groups and discussed what average citizens can do - and what they personally could do - to continue pressuring legislators to be more ethical.

Most of the attendees were people who are already pretty active in civic affairs and it would have been nice to see more younger people there. But as one participant pointed out, an answer to a story about how reporting unethical behavior is a sure way to ruin one's political career, a fairly recent whistleblower who would not go along with blatantly unethical behavior is now our governor.

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