16 Nov

Salem slow on fixing ethics rules, but let’s do it right

It’s almost hard to remember, but at the start of this year, and the start of this year’s legislative session, Oregon had a different governor. John Kitzhaber’s abrupt departure raised questions about the state’s ethical rules, and his successor, Kate Brown, promised to deal with them.

As Brown would agree, she and the legislature haven’t done it, and now it seems next year’s short session won’t, either. But facing a wave of high-impact ballot measures, that session will have plenty to do, and it’s not like ethics issues drive voters – or like next year looks like a hotly contested election.

But we should be clear on what we’ve learned, and what we should do. Freedom of Information requests for documents shouldn’t take months to meet. The legislature should have a process for removing officials; the media shouldn’t have all the fun. We should make absolutely clear the rules for officials’ relatives, or their significant others.

These issues won’t shape next year’s election – voters just don’t care the way they should about reporters’ access to documents – so Brown and the rest of us have a year to get them right. Ethics reforms in Oregon have been known to go wrong, but so has official behavior.

Let’s get this fixed before another governor departs suddenly.

NOTE: This commentary appeared in KGW-TV, 11/14/15.