I don't care if my state representative is sneaking off to Argentina to romance some exotic mystery woman. Given my rep's track record at the State House, he's unlikely to be any less effective in pursuing a clandestine international affair than in passing legislation.
I'm also not interested in the sordid details if my state senator is arrested by an undercover cop in an airport restroom for allegedly engaging in an elaborate foot-tapping code indicating he'd like to share his perverse desire to lip-synch to Moody Blues songs while cross-dressing as Margaret Chase Smith.
The governor's fetish involving those little rubber bands on lobster claws? Couldn't care less.
Don't bother to show me any photos found on the commissioner of environmental protection's computer of naked, underage sea birds participating in bizarre mating rituals.
The rumor that members of the Appropriations Committee are involved in a cult that worships chairman Bill Diamond's hair? Meh.
It's not that I don't believe public officials should behave ethically. It's just that I'm less concerned with their eccentricities than I am with their money. I want to know what they and members of their immediate families own and invest in. I want to be sure they're avoiding conflicts of interest. And I'd like to lecture any Argentine femme fatale whose standards are so flexible as to allow for a tryst with my representative. Surely, she could do better.
The Legislature has traditionally been reluctant to approve meaningful ethics reform. Its members claim that stricter definitions of conflict and increased disclosures would intrude on their private lives. Every time they'd crank up "Nights in White Satin" and adjust their wigs and rose corsages properly, they'd be interrupted by women dressed up like Ed Muskie and doing Dick Curless karaoke.
As a result of this belief that privacy trumps trust, Maine's Legislature was recently rated by the Center for Public Integrity in Washington DC as 41st in the nation in the effectiveness of its ethics rules. The state got marked down for not requiring enough information about legislators' property holdings and the financial dealings of their spouses. The center said the state's disclosure practices scored a mere 53 out of 100 points, earning it a grade of F.
In other words, our legislators do about as well with ethics as I did with high-school physics. If Maine's parents weren't so lenient, the state would be spending the summer in remedial classes. Instead, Maine is hanging out with its disreputable friends, like that awful Massachusetts and that despicable Illinois, buying beer and weed with money they got from who knows where.
Since 2005, when independent state Representative Thomas Saviello of Wilton got caught trying to use his position on a key committee to twist environmental regulations in favor of the paper company that employed him, nearly every session has seen the introduction of ethics legislation. Some minor improvements have been made (financial disclosure forms are now available online), but the most significant issues have been ignored (the current definition of conflict of interest covers less than an Argentine paramour's negligee).
How do legislators justify this inaction?
They don't. Instead, they claim they're in favor of reform, but then announce that any actual legislation needs more study, lest its passage lead to unintended consequences.
Such as their constituents finding out exactly how sleazy they are.