Opinion: California Deserves More than 'Eyewash' Ethics

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc--Any fan of the popular West Wing television series remembers when President Bartlett asked his staff in the Oval Office the English translation of this Latin phrase. You’ll also remember that our TV President provided the answer: “…after, therefore because of it.”
 
The West Wing approach would seem to be that taken by California State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature when it comes to the issue of ethics as it relates to their friends in the legislative arena.
 
People across California have been shocked and disgusted by the continuing news stories involving State Senators and Assembly members indicted, convicted or accused of various crimes, or the subject of ethical complaints filed by their own staff. I believe that one of the reasons for such revulsion is the fact that we all expect our elected representatives to come to their offices guiding their actions with the words of former Congressman J.C. Watts, who once said, “Everyone tries to define this thing called Character. It's not hard. Character is doing what's right when nobody's looking.”
 
Senator Ron Calderon, 12 years, Senator Rod Wright, 12 years, and Senator Leland Yee, 12 years. These aren’t the number of years each senator has been sentenced to prison. Rather, it’s the number of years each one has served in the Legislature as an Assemblyman and/or Senator prior to their respective indictment or conviction.
 
While it’s difficult to imagine that there are more ways for officials to lower our expectations or our faith in government, those who purport to serve us and not themselves have managed to find it. I’m speaking about the most recent stories that report that instead of removing these officials who have violated our trust it has been decided that taxpayers should fund paid vacations while their respective cases await resolution.
 
What may be even more laughable is the fact that following the move to place the three Senators on a paid vacation, it was decided by the leader of the Senate that what was required to “…repair some of the damage that has been wrought…” was to hold a two-hour ethics training session.
 
Senator Calderon is age 56, Senator Wright is 61, and Senator Yee is 65, so the question becomes at what point in their collective lives did the question of following the rule of law or engaging in ethical behavior become murky? Does anyone truly believe that an ethics training class lasting less time than the average fundraiser held by any one of these politicians would have made a difference prior to being caught by the authorities?
 
It’s time for the people of California to get more than eyewash ethics. It’s time for officeholders who commit themselves to restoring trust or who pledge themselves to “…restoring the Legislature’s honor” to stop talking and start acting. Talk for the purpose of getting elected seems to have resulted in the belief that two hours of training is all that is needed.


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