Debate over Measure 1 understandable
One might believe that ethics in government is an ideal to which everyone subscribes and that policy to help ensure lawmaker ethics would be universally applauded.
The former is probably true. It is the latter assertion that gives moment to pause.
As North Dakotans are witnessing, there are opposing sides to Measure 1 on North Dakota’s Nov. 6 general election ballot. Ostensibly, the measure seeks to bring transparency and accountability to government by establishing an ethics commission to create rules, maintain a whistleblower hotline, investigate reported violations and serve as a resource. The commission would consist of five members, appointed by consensus agreement of the governor and the Senate majority and minority leaders.
Proponents support the goal and believe an ethics commission is the way to achieve those. Opponents believe that regulations could ensnare even average citizens seeking to address their representatives and place an unnecessary burden for that most democratic of actions.
Both sides have valid points. Gov. Doug Burgum recently created an ethics regime for the state’s top executive branch figures and their staffs, complete with an appointed monitor/enforcer. The move was widely hailed in part because no such code of ethics seemed to have existed before.
High ethical standards and fair enforcement are essential. It is certainly not beyond the ability of the legislature to address the issue.
Is Measure 1 the way to achieve the lofty goal?
It’s hard to say.
Opponents might or might not have a likely concern about resident-official communications, but there are other reasons for concern. In some places, ethics commissions end up quickly as paper tigers. In other places, they end up being tools of the more influential elected officials. In still other places, such commissions are frozen for fear of being seen as political. The chief weakness of an ethics commission is that it is still a political body for all intents and purposes and they are as susceptible to the forces of politics as any other.
Whether you support or oppose Measure 1, remember folks who feel otherwise have principled differences.