Righting the good ship ‘Graft and Dishonesty’

Now in week two of the state’s special legislative session, it is becoming clear Gov. Bobby Jindal’s hefty ethics reform package has hit rough seas.

Although the boat has been tossed a bit, it is still afloat.

On Friday, the House decided 95-3 that administrative law judges, not the state Board of Ethics, should have the final say on ethics violations. The vote came over the objections of ethics board members, who fear the measure will greatly reduce their authority.

The ethics board would still prosecute offenders in hearings, but judges would have the final word on violations.

No longer will the ethics board serve as investigator, prosecutor and judge in state cases.

Despite the ethics board’s vehement objections, the above-and-beyond change could signal a shift in the tide among lawmakers.

After a full week of arguing everything from the value of free tickets to sporting events and other functions to full financial disclosure to family contractual deals with the state, lawmakers seem to be warming to the idea that change is warranted.

Or, at least some are.

After years aboard the good ship “Graft and Dishonesty,” at least one state senator says the moniker is unfair.

“I am getting tired of being called unethical, corrupt, incompetent,” State Sen. Butch Gautreaux (D-Morgan City) told the Associated Press last week. “My constituents back home don’t agree. They keep sending me back.”

Gautreaux brings up a good point. And it is sad that Louisiana politics has become synonymous with bad government. The problem, it appears, is all the poor lawmakers that are returned to office despite lingering questions about sweet deals and connections that benefit them more than the people they were elected to represent.

The reality is ethics reform is long overdue. And as unpalatable as it may be in the short run, it’s necessary if we are to continue righting this ship.