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Friday, September 20th, 2019Last Update: Wednesday, August 7th, 2019 10:21:15 AM

Stopping the Revolving Door

By: Jason Murphey

It was quite the surreal moment in the Oklahoma House of Representatives! As the 2018 legislative session came to a close, Republicans and Democrats united together in applause as one of their members concluded a fiery and passionate speech against what he hyperbolically termed “an un-American proposal.”

It was a demonstration that violated the normal decorum of the House, a decorum that lawmakers had actively sought to enforce just days earlier when visiting teachers attempted the same type of demonstration.

What was it that caused legislators to unite in this hypocritical, bipartisan breach of protocol?

What riles an Oklahoma legislator to the point of replacing the gravitas of the legislative environment with the intractableness of a Friday night football game?

It’s this: These Oklahoma politicians, handicapped by the attitude of entitlement that tends to haunt the state’s ruling class, were greatly offended that state ethics commissioners would dare to propose a modest “cooling off period” on retiring politicians; a brief time out before they can become lobbyists.

Why is this important?

How would you feel if your investment advisor took a high-paying job with those in whom he had counseled you to invest your life savings?

Or, imagine the plight of a business owner who entrusted his business affairs to a manager – a manager who left his employment and immediately accepted a lucrative job with his former company’s largest vendor.

The business owner will be forced to spend time and money as he examines all of the former employee’s past dealings. He will seek to ensure that the employee didn’t give special perks to his future employer – on the company’s dime. And, at the very least, he will feel betrayed; a conscientious and loyal employee would have avoided even the perception of this unethical behavior in the first place.

Why should we ask any different of those entrusted with the billions and billions of our public monies?

When an individual volunteers to serve the public, he should do so with no expectation that the “service” will lead to personal benefit. It’s certainly acceptable to put constraints in place, such as the cooling off period, to ensure that there isn’t the slightest perception of inappropriate personal benefit. A public official should welcome the opportunity to abide by best ethical practices; for sure, he should never oppose them.

Last year’s vote was one of the rare, singular defining moments for many of the state’s elected officials – the vast majority of which chose the wrong side and went down in history as opposing a modern system of ethics.

A cooling off period is a modicum of good government, and it has been adopted in most other states.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Oklahoma is one of just nine states that do not prohibit politicians from immediately becoming lobbyists.

The Oklahoma Legislature’s ongoing refusal to join their counterparts from across the nation and accept this small token of good governance suggests to the world that Oklahoma’s politicians remain entitled and firmly rooted in a bygone era when political corruption was too often the norm. That was a regrettable representation of the state that’s at least partially offset by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission’s admirable tenacity; a persistence that’s encumbered the Commission with great political liability due to the Legislature’s passionate and deeply held opposition to a modern ethics system.

Shortly before the close of this year’s session, Oklahoma lawmakers are almost certain to once again take action to stop the ethics proposal. There are many who are likely to oppose the reform; but I certainly expect that this year, due to the Commission’s persistence, there will be a good deal more attention paid to the Legislature’s vote and its ongoing refusal to abide by best ethical standards.

The vote will become the defining moment for the large number of newly elected legislators and will provide them with a unique opportunity to send a message to Oklahoma and the nation: Oklahoma’s new generation of elected officials have chosen a different path and are now ready to evolve the state into the 21st century.

The vote will also provide the longer-serving legislators – who placed themselves on the wrong side of history in last year’s vote – with a rare chance at redemption.

It’s an opportunity that I and an undoubtedly vast majority of Oklahomans certainly hope they will avail themselves.

These legislators and all Oklahomans should express profound appreciation to those on the state’s Ethics Commission who have courageously driven the debate...regardless of consequence.

Jason Murphey was a member of Oklahoma House of Representatives and was term-limited in 2018. He scored a perfect 100% score on the Oklahoma Conservative Index for each of 12 years he served.

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