In light of the recent conviction of the third Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives in a row, the entire Republican caucus, led by House Minority Leader Brad Jones (R- North Reading) and Rep. Dan Winslow (R-Norfolk), held a press conference at the State House last week announcing the first comprehensive reform of the House Code of Ethical Conduct governing representatives and legislative staff in more than 25 years.
The proposed reforms will hold members and legislative staff to a higher standard of ethical conduct than prescribed by statute, as well as work to restore the public’s faith in state government. News out of the capitol city has been replete with stories of ethical scandals and criminal activity on the part of elected public officials.
There was the story about the state senator caught on tape by the FBI stuffing money into her bra at a Beacon Hill eatery. The story of the state senator who groped women seated on a park bench then ran from police and when he was finally caught gave them the name of another legislator. The story of the freshman state representative caught by a court officer having sexual relations with a young female legislative aide in the House Chamber in the wee hours after budget debate was concluded. And I could go on.
All of the convicted speakers and legislators I mentioned were Democrats. This does not mean that Republicans are immune to ethical lapses, but the utter lack of balance on Beacon Hill, where the Democratic super-majority controls every constitutional office (like auditor and attorney general) and every legislative office of leadership (from speaker and majority leader, to committee chairs and vice chairs) means that there are few checks and balances on the power of the majority members. We’ve all heard the saying that “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That’s a big part of the problem. One party government is rarely free of such ethical scandals.
The federal prosecutor in the Sal DiMasi case said it best when she said, “There is a culture of corruption on Beacon Hill.” Well, we, as members, control the culture and make it what it is. We have all been sullied and had our reputations tarnished because of the actions of others. It is up to each and every one of us to restore the honor and integrity of the House and remove the all-too-real perception of corruption at the State House.
My fellow Republicans and I believe public officials should be held to a higher standard than the members of the general public that we represent. We ought to know better. I believe we need to set the example and lead by that example. We need to uphold the standards we all swore to uphold when we took our oaths of office. We should all work to ensure the integrity of our offices and actions and labor constantly to restore the honor of the venerable institution of the legislature.
The formal proposal announced by the Republicans will be filed at the next formal session of the House. House Republican legislators invite and encourage all Democrat legislators to join the proposed reform as co-sponsors. Ethics should not have to be a partisan issue.
Call your legislator and encourage him or her to sign on Rep. Brad Jones’ House Rules proposal.
Highlights of the proposed Code of Ethical Conduct include:
- Procurement: The code forbids members and staff from contacting public entities regarding pending procurements before the award decision is made. Legislators have no constitutional role regarding procurement after voting on appropriation;
- Job Recommendations: Limits members and staff to written recommendations for job seekers in the public sector, unless the employer initiates contact to check references;
- Snitch Rule: Creates ethical duty for members and staff to report any unethical or criminal conduct by any other members or staff.
- Sexual Harassment and Discrimination: Treats sexual harassment and discrimination based on gender, age, sexual orientation, etc. as an ethical issue in addition to an employment issue;
- Lobbyists: Prohibits lobbyists from entering the House Chamber and the Members’ Lounge and limits lobbyist access to members and staff unless displaying a publicly visible badge identifying them as lobbyists;
- Arrest or Indictment: Creates detailed disclosure requirements in the event a member or staff is arrested, indicted or charged with criminal offenses, or named as a defendant in a domestic violence restraining order, and empowers the Ethics Committee to act immediately as appropriate;
- Private Life/Privacy:Preserves the right of members and staff to have private lives, provided that private conduct does not become public or otherwise bring the House into public disrepute. Confirms that members’ and staff’s families are beyond the scope of the legislative ethical code.
Together, we can all restore honor and integrity to this venerable and proud institution of our state government.
Donald F. Humason Jr., Westfield’s State Representative