The Ethics Floor (Editorial)

A question from one of our office wits (we’re blessed with several): If we can’t legislate morality, can we at least legislate common sense?

The remark referred to Rick Watkins, a state Game & Fish commissioner charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct, but a number of other state officials could be included. We’ll mention just two: State Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson of gator-attack and campaign-fund-violation renown and State Treasurer Martha Shoffner, flouter of legislative subpoenas and target of a criminal investigation over her handling of state money.

In addition to the lack of judgment exhibited by these three, they share another distinction: Each is the subject of spectacularly unflattering photos that have appeared in the media.

Which, we think, brings us to the subject of ethics legislation and, in a broader sense, the effort to establish an ethics “floor,” a bare minimum of ethical conduct below which, we hope, public servants do not sink.

Here’s the take-away: We think solid ethics legislation is grand and solid ethics even grander.

Two recent efforts in Arkansas come to mind. The first is a proposed initiated act that would limit donations to candidates from corporations and unions and bar legislators and constitutional officers from receiving lobbyists’ gifts. The second is a campaign reform bill to bar “multiple campaign contributions from corporate entities controlled by the same majority owner.”

Although neither of these efforts directly addresses the problem of tacky behavior by public servants (in other words, we still might see headlines like “Wildlife official drunk, ranting, report states”), they’re steps in the right direction.