Some Ethics Amendment


Some Ethics Amendment
Jeff Wardlaw

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry, or so we’ve been told. Lately we’ve been thinking that the “ethics amendment” Arkansas voters adopted into the state Constitution was worse than we imagined when we opposed it in 2014.

The problem is not so much what it did, which was impose some mild ethics reforms on legislators in exchange for bigger salaries and longer potential terms in office. This was an amendment proposed by legislators, not voter petition, and it clearly benefited legislators more than it did voters. Jon Woods, who as a state senator from Springdale took an ethics proposal and turned it into a legislative goody bag, is now in federal prison for corruption, but his handiwork lives on.

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What brought this to mind was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s discovery that state Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, a Republican from Hermitage (Bradley County), recently sold his interest in a medical equipment company to Michael Morton, the controversial nursing home magnate, and is now Morton’s employee. Before he sold his interest, he was a partner of David Norsworthy, also a business associate of Morton — something that had not been made public when Wardlaw was chairing the House Public Health, Welfare & Labor Committee, which considers all law and rules for the nursing home industry, which is reliant on Medicaid funding.

An ethics amendment crafted by a corrupt legislator, Woods, that doesn’t require a legislator to disclose that he has a financial relationship with people who have business before that committee is flawed indeed. The voters of Arkansas undoubtedly expected better, and we certainly deserve better. We have no reason to believe there has been a crime here, but with five former legislators already convicted in the past couple of years and two more currently under indictment, legislators of goodwill need to fling the windows wide open. Voluntary transparency does not require a popular vote.