Saturday, December 29, 2007
Time to Revisit Ethics Issues Before the Session Opens?
Last January, former U.S. Attorney Wev Shea and former Alaska House Representative Ethan Berkowitz presented a document, called Ethics White Paper, to Gov. Sarah Palin. The governor had requested this bi-partisan team to come up with comprehensive recommendations for ethical reform in the Executive and Legislative branches of our state government.
At the time the paper was presented, the legislature was in a session which began with two Mat-Su Valley legislators, Sen. Lyda Green of Palmer, and Rep. Vic Kohring of Wasilla, claiming that the need for reform in the legislature was being over-emphasized, and that the Senate and House were capable of policing their own. On the day the paper was presented, legislators were attending clinics and workshops on ethics. And the session ended with one of those two Valley legislators being marched into Federal Court in handcuffs.
For all the good the workshops and clinics did the solons, one might have had them write "I will not cheat my constituents or take bribes or pretend to lobby when I'm just feathering my friggin' nest" 10,000 times on a blackboard. Or a whiteboard.
Alaska Common Ground and the League of Women Voters held educational seminars for the public in Juneau and Anchorage. The one in Anchorage was moderated by retired U.A.A. Professor, Dr. Steve Aufrecht, who discussed the event at the time on his blog.
Some of the recommendations of the White Paper were considered by the legislature during the 2007 regular session, fewer were incorporated into their subsequent reform bill.
As was seen in the 2007 Special Session of the legislature, some members took reform more seriously than others, as the big oil enablers tried every method they could to keep the governor's proposed fee structure for the removal of our non-renewable resources from coming into effect.
I read about the White Paper back when it came out, but only started reading it today. You can download it as a PDF here.
In light of information U.S. Senate candidate and former Alaska Representative Ray Metcalfe has been sharing with me about his past as a dogged and courageous advocate of legislative reform, I've been looking into the history of other legislators and former legislators in this regard. None has a greater claim to having been instrumental in moving the public and law enforcement agencies toward acting on the egregious nature of the ethical and criminal violations of our elected officials than has Metcalfe. The only other legislator to make remotely similar claims has been Berkowitz.
Metcalfe has taken issue both with the recommendations of the January 2007 White Paper, and with the Berkowitz camp's meme that Ethan's objections during the first 2006 Special Session of the Legislature were meaningful in the ways Berkowitz and his supporters present them.
At the time of the White Paper's introduction in Juneau, Metcalfe was critical, stating to the Juneau Empire's Pat Forgey that Metcalfe
ha[d] recommended abolishing the Alaska Public Offices Commission and creating a new agency within the judicial branch of government.
The new commission would be protected from legislative influence, and also would handle the duties of the current Ethics Committee of the Legislature.
Members of the new commission would be appointed by the Supreme Court instead of political parties, he said. Metcalfe wants to see any investigations handled by trained criminal investigators with the Alaska State Troopers, who have union protection.
"The new commission should be empowered to address all public corruption in whatever form it takes," Metcalfe told APOC earlier this month.
In regard to Berkowitz's contention that his objections to Veco lobbying during the summer of 2006 were meaningful, Metcalfe has sent me more information regarding Berkowitz's handling of documents previously provided Ethan by Ray:
I thought you might be interested in my response to an inquiry I received regarding Ethan.
I ran into Ethan this week and he told me that you had been telling others that he was not responsive to your initial complaints about Ben’s impropriety when he was in the legislature. Will you please call him and talk with him about this, rather than getting Diane Benson all worked up about it. Will you please call him at 279-5659.
I am sorry to say this but, I probably left a dozen personal messages, some hand delivered with documents, some by phone, some by email, asking Ethan to lend a hand. He had my number and an invitation to return a call for about three years.
He has ignored every call, every email, and every document I hand delivered to his office. The heavy lifting was over and the posse was rumored to be on its way by the time he finally said something on the House Floor.
He even came to Ted's defense on matters of the corruption I was trying to expose.
When the raids had come and gone, and it was safe to come out of the closet, he tried to pretend he was part of the battle and part of the solution with his ridiculous "White Paper" that offered no solutions for anything. He didn't call me for advice on that either.
Several people have called me and ask how this happened, what the hurdles were in forcing the issue to the surface, and what they can do to help make sure it doesn't happen again. Some are taking meaningful steps to such ends. Some are writing books. Ethan has blown me off as an irritating gadfly at every opportunity and to this day has expressed no interest in any advice I might have.
One of the interesting things to me about this affair is the contrast between a very cautious incrementalist like Berkowitz and a fairly revolutionary figure like Metcalfe. The election of Sarah Palin and her growing popularity seem to indicate Alaskans are more accepting of the latter mode than the former right now.
photo of Berkowitz, Palin and Shea by Brain Wallace - Juneau Empire