Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Davis County Clipper: What is behind Walker investigation

What is behind the Walker investigation?
Clipper 15.JUL.08
Rob Miller, Utah Democratic Vice Chair

The Walker investigation is the tip of the iceberg. For 30 years, Utah has been a one-party state. The Republicans have used their growing majorities to draw district lines to create as many safe GOP seats as possible and reduce areas where Democrats could be competitive. With total party dominance and guaranteed job security, the far right wing of the GOP has felt emboldened to impose its ideological will on Utahns whether they agree or not — and too many legislators have succumbed to the notion that power equals entitlement.

If you chair a committee that controls the flow of bills, why not put the arm on lobbyists and tell them that they’d better contribute money to your special project if they want their bills to see the light of day? After all, if you can’t use power to throw your weight around, what use is it?

The story of Rep. Walker’s $55,000 salary increase proposal to Richard Ellis if Ellis would drop out of the treasurer’s race is a classic example of power’s hubris-inducing dangers. According to Ellis, Walker told him that his (Walker’s) good friend “has assured me we can make this happen” and that it could be done in stages and covertly so that no one would know about it. Ellis blew the whistle and asked for an investigation. When the Lieutenant Governor declined to act, some legislators stepped forward and called for an ethics hearing.

Clearly, this was an instance where the corruptive use of power spilled into the media in a very public way, and what makes this episode unusual is that Walker had talked with so many people about his clever idea to eliminate an opponent that there were too many people in the know to cover it up, and there was also a paper trail of corroborative e-mail messages.

It’s fair to say that too many years of single-party rule have bred a culture of corruption, where powerful legislators feel they can do anything they wish. What’s really going on when a powerful legislator asks a lobbyist to make a campaign contribution to the legislator’s good friend? The rule says, “members of the House shall not use their official; position to secure privileges for themselves or others.” When that lobbyist has a bill in front of the Legislature that’s important to his employer, what’s the lobbyist going to do? Of course. Ask how much is wanted and write the check. This goes on all the time. It’s how pro-voucher legislators financed a pro-voucher political issue committee in 2007 to tell voters to pass the voucher bill.

Why do we, the voters, put up with this kind of unethical strong-arming? Because the perps like to keep it secret. Who, after all, will blow the whistle? The lobbyists who always need legislators’ votes? Not likely. Thank goodness, in the Walker case, five courageous legislators, three Democrats and two Republicans said, “if not us, who; and if not now, when?”

Walker had made many public statements denying any wrongdoing, but when it came time to deny it under oath and in response to several witnesses who had heard him speak candidly, he didn’t want to defend himself — and he didn’t want to answer questions about which other legislator — most likely in the GOP leadership — had said “we can make it happen.”

I’m a Democrat in Davis County, and we work hard to find qualified candidates who’ll uphold the public trust. The best antidote against legislative corruption is the check and balance of a strong, competitive two-party system. We used to have that in Utah, and government worked better for it.

What is behind the Walker investigation?
Clipper 15.JUL.08
By Todd Weiler, Utah Republican Vice Chair

It is easy to make a snap judgment when you just read about something or someone in the newspaper. “That guy is guilty. He ought to go to jail.” Or, “I think that guy is lying. I don’t believe a word he says.” That used to me. I was that guy. But my perspective has changed. The more involved I have become in politics, the more people I have met. As a result, I know just about all of the key players involved with the Mark Walker investigation.

Mark Walker and Richard Ellis are both great guys: friendly, personable and competent. As a Republican, I was proud to have them both on the ballot because the way I figured it, we would be in good hands no matter who won.

Then everything changed. In late May, Ellis claimed that Walker had offered him an illegal bribe in March, in the form of a job with a big pay raise, to drop out of the race.

Walker denied the allegation, and explained that he only intended to dispel the notion that he wouldn’t fire anyone in the Treasurer’s office if he was elected.

Ellis filed a complaint, and then a lawsuit. On June 24, he won the primary election in a landslide.

Walker resigned from his job during the campaign, lost the election, and now has resigned his seat in the Legislature.

Since Walker is the subject of a criminal investigation, there is no way his attorney was going to allow him to testify before the ethics committee. I don’t blame him for resigning his seat to avoid the hearing. Regardless of his guilt or innocence, he would have been foolish to ignore the advice of his counsel.

As strange as it may sound, much of this controversy is tied to vouchers. The anti-voucher crowd was backing Ellis.

The pro-voucher crowd was backing Walker. Even though the state treasurer has little or nothing to do with vouchers, the battle lines had been drawn.

This all stems back to the referendum on vouchers. When vouchers were defeated last November, the anti-voucher advocates were emboldened. They believed that they had finally shown that the “emperor had no clothes”. In their minds, it was proof that the conservatives in the Legislature had lost touch with the electorate.

This same anti-voucher crowd is now suing the state over the education omnibus bill that was passed earlier this year.

Since they successfully overturned vouchers last year, they decided to take a shot at overturning the omnibus bill this go round.

All of these battles have exposed a deep and bitter divide within the Utah legislature.

Although I cannot predict what will result from the Walker investigation, I am quite certain that this political war is far from over.


Louis in Provo said...

As a Utah County Republican who used to live in Davis County I wanted to state that your article hits the nail on it's proverbial head.

I am a bit concerned that I find myself agreeing with the Utah Democratic vice chair, but lately I find myself more inclined to vote for your candidates this year.

Anonymous said...

The Dem's really need to seize this opportunity and present themselves as the party who is fiscally responsible, ready to tackle the big issues (health care, education, and shifting the some of the tax burden back to those businesses in the Utah Taxpayers Association). And if you could just quite those fringes down a bit and be the party of family values you could take back the house. Please try to work together and not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Anonymous said...

You are delusional if you think the average voter somehow tied this to vouchers. All you had to do was listen to both of the candidates and it was clear which one was more qualified.

bekkieann said...

Excellent post, Rob. I guess the thing I find most disturbing is that the 'perps' seem to truly think there is nothing wrong with these little backroom deals. It's an efficient and effective way of doing business.