|by Howard Stephenson|
A Fourth Congressional District?
Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and his team of lawyers have done a superb job in advancing Utah’s claim for a fourth congressional seat to the U.S. Supreme Court. And in anticipation of the possibility of a fourth seat, the Utah Legislature already adopted the new reapportioned three district seats and the alternative four district seats.
There’s a lot of speculation on the hill right now about when the high court might make the decision. Some say it could be as early as July. Trouble is, under the current calendar, party conventions and primary elections will be over by then. So what do we do if the nominees for three seats have already been selected by the time the Supreme Court tells us we get four seats?
It’s not as easy as saying we will just select a fourth candidate for the new seat. Two or more of the party nominees for the three seats may actually live in the same district under the four seat plan. And it wouldn’t be fair to allow any of the three-seat nominees to assume the nomination for one of the four seats because the party delegates and primary voters who selected them may no longer be in their new congressional district and vice versa. We don’t let voters in Colorado participate in our statewide elections, so why would we let voters from one four-district Utah congressional district select the nominee in another district?
There are some legislators who want to change the entire election cycle in anticipation of winning the fourth congressional seat. That would mean delaying precinct caucuses until July which are now scheduled for March and putting off county and state conventions from late April and early May to August. This would kick primary elections from the usual June date to September or October.
These changes would affect hundreds of legislative and county races, all to accomodate one more congressional seat.
Rather than changing the whole system, wouldn’t it be simpler to handle only the congressional races differently, if the court finds in Utah’s favor?
Some people have said that the term “legislative ethics” is an oxymoron. Perennial news stories tell about lobbyist gifts, campaign contributions and retiring legislators returning to the legislature as highly compensated lobbyists.
Responding to these stories is somewhat like answering the question, “When did you stop beating your wife?” The assumptions greatly exceed reality.
I agree with Senate President Al Mansell who said that “Regardless of what we do, we would be criticized for not doing something more.”
There are states with ethics laws which are either more strict or more lax than Utah’s and in each of these states the media claims the laws are not restrictive enough.
Common Cause and others are calling for limits on campaign contributions, lobbyist lunches, and conflicts of interest. They’re also calling for an independent elections commission and an independent ethics commission.
Former gubernatorial candidate Glen Davis is calling on Republican legislators to sign his 7-point pledge for “Political Ethics and Standards.” In a threatening letter to legislators last month, he warned that if a legislator failed to respond to his pledge request by a certain date, he would report to the State Republican Central Committee that the legislator did not support his plan. In making such an ultimatum, Mr. Davis violates the most basic of ethical standards. Many of the Democrats have repeatedly called for the kinds of laws espoused by Common Cause and Mr. Davis.
The one common element I have observed in those who complain about these things is that they either get their information about the subject second hand, through the media, or they are those whose proposals are not adopted by the legislature and they logically assume the reason their ideas are rejected is that the majority who do not agree with them have been bribed. They think their political foes are beholden to the people who buy them dinner or those who contribute to their campaign.
My experience through fifteen years as a lobbyist and ten years as a State Senator have shown me that almost all legislators, lobbyists, and contributors to campaigns exercise a high standard of ethics. The published stories about political ethics are full of hyperbole. The passing of strict laws and the establishment of commissions will only further tarnish the image of worthy public officials and deter would-be candidates from seeking public office.
But I must confess a secret desire for the banning of meals paid for by lobbyists. A man can only stand so much rubber chicken.