Guest MINDSETTER™ Sheehan: Will We Meet on Common Ground?
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
One way to begin changing this negative perception is to restore — after seven years’ absence — the Ethics Commission’s jurisdiction over the legislative duties of the General Assembly.
To do this, the state constitution must be amended.
I’ve worked on ethics reform for six years, and I believe the best way to achieve it is through compromise. Last year, I brought a group of stakeholders together to forge a solution. While no party was completely satisfied with the resulting compromise, I believe the “Common Ground” Ethics Amendment (2016-S 2427) represents the best resolution to restore ethical oversight of the General Assembly.
The two key issues in this compromise were: 1) To what degree should legislators be permitted to speak freely in shaping public policy/law? and 2) Should public officials found in violation of the state code of ethics receive an appeal (trial) on the merits of their conviction?
Two years ago, an initial compromise was introduced which won the support of good government groups. It addressed the first question by stating that legislators “shall be free, without question or penalty, to discuss and debate any matter within their core legislative duties.” Essentially this broad protection of free speech granted legislators a wide berth to conduct their business in the House or Senate, in committee or anywhere else at the State House without their freedom of speech being compromised.
However, the Ethics Commission would have been permitted to oversee a legislator’s drafting, sponsoring, and votes on any piece of legislation. The stakeholder group's compromise greatly narrowed the area of “free speech.” Under the Common Ground amendment, legislative speech would only be protected in the form of public discussion on the floor of the House or Senate or in committee during session. Any behind-the-scenes talk or discussion, written notes, drafting, sponsoring and voting on legislation would be subject to Ethics Commission oversight.
Further, under R.I. General Law (36-14-6), legislators who have a conflict of interest with a given bill must file a sworn statement of conflict with the Ethics Commission prior to voting. If not, a legislator with a conflict who did not file a sworn statement and/or voted with a conflict of interest could be charged with an ethics violation (a lack of filing and the vote themselves could be used as evidence against him or her).
This compromise protects essential legislative “speech” to discuss public policy/laws without restraint or regulation while permitting the Ethics Commission to vigorously and effectively police the public conduct of members of the General Assembly.
In response to the second question above, good government groups also objected to the creation of a new constitutional right to a trial de novo (new trial) appeal, which was added to the initial compromise bill two years ago. The de novo appeal would have permitted a new trial, on appeal, for any and all violators of the state code of ethics. It was this provision which caused good government groups to oppose the initial compromise ethics amendment two years ago.
In the interest of compromise, the Common Ground Amendment eliminated the “trial de novo” provision. In its place, a jury trial was limited to serious offenses, namely those which were considered a crime. Unlike the previous trial de novo provision, this jury trial right would only be recognized if the court agreed that public officials were already entitled to such a right under common law.
The Common Ground Ethics Amendment is a reasonable compromise. In spite of this, some legislators may prefer an amendment that would be opposed by the good government community. Conversely, some good government advocates cling to an ethics bill that would be opposed by legislators who wish to preserve free speech. It is unlikely that either of these versions would be approved by voters or the General Assembly.
The choice is clear: either both sides choose compromise and meet on common ground or the General Assembly likely will continue to operate in an ethics code vacuum for years to come. The former would begin to stem the tide of cynicism, while the latter would further fan the flames of anti-establishment anger in Rhode Island politics — and to what end?!
Related Slideshow: 10 Ways Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Are Actually Similar
Universal Health Care
Despite sitting on opposite sides of the aisle, Trump and Sanders essentially share the same healthcare plan. But you don’t have to take our word for it—Ted Cruz, Trump’s chief rival, said himself that Trump and Sanders “have basically the same healthcare plan," in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.
"Donald Trump enthusiastically supported the TARP bailout of big banks. I opposed it. He enthusiastically supported Barack Obama's stimulus plan. He thought it should have been bigger. I think it was a disaster and a waste of money. Actually, Donald not only supported both of those, but he argued that Obamacare should be expanded to make it socialized medicine for everyone,” Cruz told Hannity
Reforming Wall Street
Both candidates have made serious noise talking about reforming Wall Street. Bernie Sanders has just about made his whole career on taking on financial kingpins, and has attracted many young fans in the process.
While the uber-capitalist Trump may seem like the candidate to take on his fellow one-percenters, his words say something different. Trump blasted hedge fund managers on CBS, saying they are “getting away with murder,” on CBS’ “Face the Nation" in 2015.
"The hedge fund guys didn't build this country. These are guys that shift paper around and they get lucky,” Trump said.
They Don't Take Money from Wall Street
It’s not just that the candidates criticize Wall Street and big banks—plenty do that. But Trump and Sanders back up their tough talk by not attracting campaign donations from those same financial institutions.
Sure, Hillary Clinton has taken aim at the major financial mavericks during her time on the campaign trail—what self-respecting Democrat hasn’t? But a closer look at her campaign financials shows that she isn’t putting her money where her mouth is.
Their Campaigns are Populist Movements
Neither Trump nor Sanders are what you would call a “party darling.” Both have taken aim at the lions and leaders of their own parties have been unafraid to make controversial statements regarding the political establishments.
Instead, their campaigns have been buoyed by passionate, typically politically apathetic people. People who have finally found someone they can relate to in the political landscape and someone they feel they can trust. Despite repeated predictions of failure, regular people continue to respond to their campaigns, as both Sanders and Trump remain near or at the polls as the primaries begin.
The Most Unusual Candidates (Ever?)
Trump and Sanders are certainly the most unusual candidates this year, as both the Republican and Democratic fields contain typical governors, senators and congressman vying for the ultimate government job. It goes one step further, however—they may be the most unusual candidates a Presidential campaign has ever seen.
Sure, Trump isn’t the first rich eccentric to take a run at the Oval Office (just google Ross Perot if you don’t believe us.) But he’s certainly the first candidate to speak about immigrants and other races as he has.
Political candidates of any variety like going where they are wanted. They make sure that there are plenty of warm well-wishers to make campaign events see exciting and full.
Trump and Sanders, however, seem to be able to attract raucous crowds that are more akin to rock concert or playoff game than a political rally. People come in costume, dressed as their favorite candidate. Teenagers, even though they cannot cast a vote, turn out in full face paint to support their candidate.
It’s happened all over the country. Record-setting crowds packed the Moda Center in Portland, Oregon and thousands filled the DCU Center to see Trump in Worcester, Massachusetts. Everywhere these candidates go, people rush to see them.
Lots of Small-Money Donations
Typically, leading Presidential campaigns are powered by big money donations, but that’s not the case for Trump and Sanders.
As Graphiq shows us below, Sanders and Trump are one and two, respectively in the amount of campaign donations under $200—a sure sign of grassroots support.
How often do you watch and listen to a political speaking, and find yourself drifting off to sleep or reaching for your iPhone?
That rarely seems to be the case when Trump or Sanders are on the mic. You never quite know when Trump will insult an entire religion or ethnic group in one thirty-second soundbite.
Not to be outdone, Sanders folksy and frantic style of speech has attracted attention—and plenty of jokes and memes—from all across the internet.
Slated for Failure
Since the first day that each candidate announced their campaign, the political intellectual and elite have told everyone that they just don’t stand a chance. Trump and Sanders are too controversial, their too radical and they are too inexperienced. How many times did political analysts or other talking heads say they would be out of the race before the first votes are ever cast?
Yet here we are, just a few days away from the first caucuses and primaries. Neither Trump nor Sanders are out of the race. Neither is on their dying breaths. They are thriving. And, as you’ll see in our next slide, they are winning
Leading in Iowa (and New Hampshire!)
If the latest polls are to believed these massively unusual candidates—one socialist, one real estate magnate/reality tv star, both with tons of small donations, both told they never had any chance—will be making victory speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire soon.
According to CNN, Trump has an 11 point lead among Republicans and Sanders an eight point lead among Democrats in Iowa just a few days before the caucus.
And in New Hampshire, as you’ll see below, Trump and Sanders have double digit leads as we approach the first true primary.
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