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Nothing funny about insisting on honest governance

By TOM FOLEY and SEN. JOE MARKLEY

Publication: The Day

Published June 30. 2013 4:00AM

Connecticut's legislature is as topsy-turvy as a fun house on the issue of ethics reform. With twisted perceptions of right side up being upside down, lawmakers got really bent out of shape when we introduced a bill to eliminate glaring conflicts of interest at our Capitol.

The bill simply said that legislators and senior government officials cannot be paid more than $1,000 a year by a public employee union, a lobbying firm or a large state contractor.

When first conceived, we doubted the bill would draw much interest. We did not know if it would pass this session, but we believed it would gather a following over time.

Most people in state government are honest, intelligent and well-intentioned, but not all. Connecticut has suffered many scandals. So, public officials in Connecticut are justifiably viewed by many with suspicion, even contempt. You would think a bill to turn that around would be well received.

But at the public hearing on the bill, we were aggressively attacked by lawmakers for proposing higher ethical standards. Instead of acknowledging the problem and helping to craft a solution, the political establishment in both parties attacked the bill as "poorly drafted," "way too broad," "politically motivated" and "dead on arrival."

Raw and widespread hostility was the reaction to a bill whose goal was little different from saying, "legislators and senior government officials will not take a bribe disguised as a job."

The legislative committee that heard and attacked the bill refused to even bring it up for a vote.

Sen. Joe Markley, co-author of this piece, was able to offer the essence of the bill as an amendment to another bill on the closing day of session. The amendment was supported by Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, and earned the unanimous support of Republican state senators. But it was unanimously rejected by Senate Democrats, who dismissed it as "flawed."

It is hard to believe that we live in a state where legislators can blatantly vote against an unambitious ethics bill and not be afraid of adverse public reaction - but that is the situation Connecticut finds itself in with our one-party Democratic rule.

When the dialogue on this proposed bill continues, its opponents will have to explain what they mean by "flawed." Do they mean a legislator being paid a $100,000 a year or more by a state contractor won't be influenced by that relationship in his or her official duties? Do they mean citizens should just trust legislators' good judgment when so many have abused the public trust? Do they mean these conflicts do not exist? If not, this bill won't affect anyone, so why bother being against it?

The topsy-turvy world of the legislative fun house can strain the idealism that first draws people to public service. The public nature of the job can lead to a sense of entitlement which clouds public servants' judgment. And it really is better to have rules and laws in place rather relying on good intentions that may go astray.

Having witnessed some tragic examples of those who have strayed, we remain committed to passing a law that delineates behavior that is acceptable from that which is not, for the sake of the public trust and for the good of the state.

Joe Markley of Waterbury is a Republican state senator and Tom Foley of Greenwich was the Republican nominee for governor in 2010 and has indicated an interest in running for governor in 2014.

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