Printed on: January 17, 2013

Better than the Boss


New House Speaker Scott Bedke is no Lawerence Denney. The former Boss of the Idaho House of Representatives, Denney oversaw a damaging run of public misbehavior -- from placement of a tax scofflaw on the tax committee to punishing the legislator who called for an ethics investigation into former State Rep. Phil Hart's shenanigans.

Bedke has, so far at least, taken the opposite approach. First, he elevated the lawmaker punished by Denney, Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, to the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee. Then he mandated ethics training for all House members.

That's an excellent start. Now we'd like to see Bedke finish the job. It's a lot to ask, but nobody is in better position to address Idaho's culture of corruption than a newly minted House speaker riding a wave of momentum and good vibes.

Bedke has an opportunity to rebuild the reputation of a legislative body soiled by Denney's willingness to overlook the misdeeds of his political allies. In doing so, Bedke would send a clear message that he plans to follow in the footsteps of past speakers Tom Boyd, Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb, men whose integrity was never in question.

Idaho's path to a more transparent state government has not changed since last year when Denney and Senate leaders stood before the public and promised changes that never came.

Idaho remains one of three states that do not require legislators and their spouses to disclose personal financial information -- income sources and holdings that can, and undoubtedly have, influenced decision-making.

A disclosure bill unanimously passed the Senate four years ago only to land in Denney's drawer. A similar bill with Bedke's name on it would send a clear message that the bad old days are gone.

Idaho needs to prevent lawmakers and other public employees from immediately lobbying after they leave office. A cooling-off period works for the feds and several states. Why not Idaho? Also, formation of a citizen ethics panel would go a long way toward restoring the public confidence eroded by Denney and his cronies.

Bedke's defeat of Denney and his efforts so far have defused this issue. That's good and bad. Good in that this speaker, unlike his predecessor, appears to understand that victory means nothing if it damages public confidence in the political process. Bad because inaction means there are no institutional safeguards to protect Idahoans from the next Boss Denney.

Bedke is not responsible for the sins of the past. But if by doing nothing he allows history to repeat itself, this new speaker will not be able to say he was better than the Boss.

And that's a fate Bedke should do everything in his power to avoid.

Corey Taule