Printed on: May 01, 2013

The honor system isn't working

Bruce Baxter
Guest columnist

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's veto of a good-government bill worked out well for some members of his party, writes Bruce Baxter.

Idaho suffers a severe lack of transparency, compounded by the fact that elected Republicans display a remarkable disdain for investigating other establishment Republicans.

When Senate Bill 1080 passed the Idaho Legislature, at long last a mechanism for investigating county prosecutors was created. Conveniently, funding for the attorney general's office to do so died in committee, prompting Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to request a veto. Along with one other piece of legislation regarding wolves, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter complied. Some have opined that both vetoes dealt with wolves, of the two-legged and the four-legged varieties.

Such an unfunded mandate may have been just the ticket for a Democratic attorney general to beat the legislature over the head and obtain funding in their next session. At that juncture, failure to do so on the part of the Legislature, along with the accompanying spotlight of the media, may have been a catalyst for defeating some sorry incumbents.

You don't have to be much of a cynic to conclude that neither the attorney general, governor nor legislature wanted this very badly. Why should they? Disrupting another Republican's fiefdom shouldn't be the priority; preserving those well-earned perks of power seems more like it. Besides, it's poor taste to investigate fellow Republican office holders when a run for higher office is at stake and their future political support might come in handy.

Guess it never crossed their minds that there would be oodles of volunteers out there eager to help. Separating gossip and innuendo from well-documented cases would have been easy. Low-hanging fruit is the easiest to pick, especially before it rots off the trees. Since the American Bar Association recommends 50 hours of pro bono work annually, volunteers would be coming out of the woodwork. Between established lawyers seeking to police one of their own, retired lawyers and new lawyers looking for a notch on their belt, how hard would it be to set up legal aid for not just the poor but the downtrodden?

It's never a good idea to be too negative. Current Idaho code allows prosecutors to investigate themselves or request an outside investigation. For that matter, each county has an additional constitutional officeholder that could do so -- their county sheriff. Despite what appears to be a politically symbiotic relationship, sheriffs are empowered to investigate individuals responsible for prosecuting county criminal investigations. But the question remains: How well does the honor system work for law enforcement and elected prosecutors?

Beyond the Rockies, such conflicts are unheard of. Boards of county supervisors (commissioners) have their attorney and elected prosecutors are separate offices, often from different political parties.

Do they keep an eye on each other?

What do you think?

Baxter is a former Prince William County, Virginia Republican Party chairman, retired businessman and founder of Jefferson County's Restoring Integrity Project. He can be reached at bbaxter44@gmail.com.