Monday, June 3, 2013

Cole: Governor trying to influence Ethics Commission

Mississippi Democratic Party Chairman Rickey L. Cole sent the following letter to the Ethics Commission:

Dear Mr. Hood:

I am writing to express my alarm and dismay at recent public statements by Governor Bryant and other officials and commentators about matters allegedly pending before the Mississippi Ethics Commission, specifically whether or not six Republican members of the House of Representatives may alter a position they have long maintained and cast a vote on the appropriations bill for the Division of Medicaid. It appears there is a concerted effort to influence the decision of the Commission, and that is cause for concern.

For example, WLOX-TV is reporting that on Monday Governor Bryant said, “There are six members of the House of Representatives all Republicans that are asking as to whether or not the ethics commission will allow them to vote. They have some concern. So we feel like it's important for every member to have the opportunity to vote.” It appears to us the Governor is sending the Ethics Commission a strong signal as to how he wants it to rule.

Then there is Alan Lange, a well known Republican blogger, who, on April 8, 2013, made clear in advice to the Republican Party that ethics should take a back seat to partisan politics when it comes to funding Medicaid: “In legislative leadership, you only have so many opportunities to say, “this is a vote that the party has to have and this vote is the price you pay for having an ‘R’ by your name”. This is one of those times. There are some pretty squishy Republican votes that should have gotten drug across the line that didn’t. Most of the sideline votes are Chairman or Vice Chairman. Some are claiming that they may have a conflict on the vote, but whether or not an Ethics Commission opinion has been requested is not known. Like the other representatives, they’ve got an election coming up in two years. Medicaid reauthorization is a key deal for the Governor, the Lt. Governor, the Speaker and the people of the state.” (my emphasis)

All of these public comments, plus others, both public and private, are taking place in the context of the recent partisan dinner hosted by the Speaker of the House at his office in the State Capitol, a dinner that included Billy Powell, a member of the Ethics Commission.

I can assure you the average person looks at all of this and figures, “the fix is in.” I know I don’t need to remind you that the Legislative Declaration for the Conflict of Interest states that, “The legislature declares that elective and public office and employment is a public trust and any effort to realize personal gain through official conduct, other than as provided by law, or as a natural consequence of the employment or position, is a violation of that trust. Therefore, public servants shall endeavor to pursue a course of conduct which will not raise suspicion among the public that they are likely to be engaged in acts that are in violation of this trust and which will not reflect unfavorably upon the state and local governments.” (emphasis added)

The goal of the Mississippi ethics law is to bolster confidence and trust in the operation of government. As the declaration states, creating that trust depends as much on deterring any act that might create a “suspicion” of unethical behavior as it does on prosecuting actual violations of the code of ethics. If the Ethics Commission creates a loophole for these six legislators to change course and begin voting on the Medicaid appropriations bill, then we’ll know the Declaration is meaningless.

I look forward to your reply.


Rickey L. Cole


Anonymous said...

How very, very far down the intellectual curve the Mississippi Democrats have fallen when the Chairman of their party feels compelled to correspond with the state Ethics Commission regarding concerns about something Alan Lange wrote on his blog.

You'd think at least Jim Hood would have the sense to quietly tell his partymates behind the scenes how minor, petty and inconsequential they appear to the general public.

Anonymous said...

7:43 am SIGH
Let's not fall into the political games here.
Either these 6 Republicans have a conflict of interest or they don't.
I'd be happy if BOTH parties had stayed the hell out of it.
BOTH parties should want The Ethics Commission to function without political pressure from either party.
And, only someone blindly partisan without one whit of concern for our State would wish otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Sadly you completely miss the point 8:33 AM. I'll leave it that.

Anonymous said...

7:43 a.m., you're obviously a true believer Repub. While I agree with you that what Alan Lange wrote on his blog, which serves as part of the Repub. Party's propaganda machine, is irrelevant to anything, you can take that part out of the Cole email, and it remains clear that the fix is in. 8:33 a.m. didn't miss anything.

I'm quite sure that if the shoe was on the other foot, the Repubs. would be shouting to the world the injustice of it all.

Anonymous said...

What Mr. Cole skims right over is the part that says "as a natural consequence of the employment or position."

I would argue that a bill that effects one third of the population would fall into as a natural consequence. Sometimes we must do that which we may not like in order to serve the people.

Anonymous said...

In our municipal government the educators on the Jackson city council recuse or abstain in votes frequently. The parties are very well organized on the state level however. Its like the soviet system for the Republicans on the state level. If the Ethics Commission does its duty here, we are a step ahead of the People's Revolutionary Party of China. Other political subdivisions of the state can seek the advice of the commission freely. Methinks levee, drainage, or economic development boards & c under-utilize this important office on Amite Street.

Anonymous said...

If the Legislature would declare and define through their own lawmaking the boundaries of the public trust for all state officials--, we might have better laws in general. We might also have better lawmakers should they include rules for their own conduct.

Anonymous said...

Methinks far too much importance is heaped upon Mr. Lange, who, like Tom Head, only speaks and writes to hear himself prattle.

Otherwise, what possible outcome does Cole think will come from his letter to General Hood?

What the hell authority does Hood have over politicians playing politics? This is nothing more than something else useless for Bill Minor to pick up on from which to make a half-assed Sunday column.

Anonymous said...

2:12 pm I hope you aren't in elected office.
Your comment sounds like the rationalizations I've heard from every politician who wants to justify doing the wrong thing to advance their political status within their party or with their constituency.
Service to the people just isn't that damn hard or complicated. It's not about what one " likes" or doesn't like, but about making decisions based on the best available information and without being self serving.

Anonymous said...

7:43 - you miss the easier point. AG Jim Hood doesn't have to 'tell his playmates' - he just has to tell his brother who runs the Ethics Commission - to take care of his playmates desires.

The problem with this is that anyone in the legislature that is "in business" has conflicts and in previous rulings couldn't even be a member of the legislature. But a lawyer can have all they want and still serve and vote in the legislature. So the result is we get a legislature full of lawyers and individuals whose occupation is listed as being a "consultant".

The alleged 'conflict' raised by previous legislators and previous Ethics Commission rulings is that, for example, a pharmacist who fills prescriptions for a Medicaid recipient has a conflict voting on Medicaid because he "benefits" from Medicaid. Or a nurse that works for a hospital that takes Medicaid patients benefits from the Medicaid program because the nurse gets a salary from the hospital and the hospital's income includes dollars from Medicaid. A true interpretations is is -the pharmacist or the nurse doesn't benefit from Medicaid, the recipient who had the government pay for his drugs or his hospital treatment is the "beneficiary". But an expansive ruling has made these type businesspeople 'scared' to even get close to the line.

It is time for the legislators who have been stuck under this threat from AG Hood's brother to challenge the ruling that they are benefiting from the Medicaid program.

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