State Senate Should Establish Internal Bipartisan Ethics Process

June 8, 2009

As someone who sought elective office as a way of giving back to my community, I am always interested in ideas and proposals for encouraging the public’s trust in elected government officials, as well as state government. I felt that way when I was a member of the Watertown Town Council, and I continue to feel that way now that I represent the 32nd District in the State Senate.

Unfortunately, there are always plenty of negative political stories to read about. True enough, some politicians and some government officials are as capable of bad behavior as are the members of any other group. And, when politicians get caught doing bad things, or sometimes even suspected of doing bad things, the press writes about it. Of course, reporting about politics and government – the good and the bad – is what the media is supposed to do. The problem is that the bad stuff is often so much more interesting than the good stuff. As a result, the bad stuff is what people tend to remember most vividly.

That is one of the many reasons I so ardently supported the resolution offered by Republican Senators to invite the public trust by creating an internal bipartisan committee to investigate and, if necessary, act on ethics complaints against state senators. If our resolution had passed, Connecticut would have followed the example of 41 other states that have legislative ethics committees. Sadly, all but one of the Democratic majority senators present voted against the Republican resolution.

In explaining their opposition to our proposal, Senate Democratic leadership asserted that Connecticut does not need an internal ethics committee because the state already has an independent ethics office – even though many of the states that have legislative ethics committees also have independent ethics agencies. Furthermore, the Democrats said they did not like aspects of our proposal that called for establishing a permanent bipartisan committee and allowing members of the public, as well as state senators, to bring complaints. In response, Republican Senators agreed to amend their proposal to allow for the appointment of a bipartisan internal committee when a complaint is filed, and to limit the authority to file complaints to just state senators.

In the end, Republican Senators’ willingness to compromise did not lead to an agreement to create a permanent internal bipartisan ethics process to investigate ethics complaints against our members.

Interestingly, you may remember that it was not all that long ago when both the Democratic and Republican Senate leadership called for the creation of a permanent bipartisan legislative ethics committee as part of their respective caucus’s agendas. Meanwhile, the fact that the State Senate does not have a permanent bipartisan committee in place to conduct ethics complaints against senators does not mean that the Senate cannot conduct such an investigation. As it stands now, the decision to conduct an internal investigation regarding the behavior of an individual state senator essentially rests with whoever is in power – right now, that means the Senate Democratic majority leadership.

Of course, I am disappointed that we ended this legislative session without establishing a permanent bipartisan process to investigate ethics complaints regarding State Senators. But, I am optimistic that we will ultimately put such a process in place, and I am committed to working in a bipartisan manner with my colleagues in the State Senate to make that happen.

As always, I welcome the opportunity to discuss this issue, and others important to our state. I can be reached at my legislative office at 1-800-842-1421, or via e-mail to [email protected].