Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Tim Lockette

Thank you, Tim Lockette, for your Anniston Star article "Alabama lawmakers defend their votes after ethics panel backlash" (text of article appended below).

I think your article should be read in context.

The 2016 Presidential election was a remarkable eighteen months of Presidential campaigning by Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump that vociferously charged that a corrupt Congress and broken political system were failing the American people.

President-Elect Donald Trump campaigned hard at the close of his campaign that he would "drain the swamp" in Washington DC.

In his Contract with the American Voter, Trump committed to embark immediately on a plan for restoring honesty and accountability, and bringing change to Washington. The Contract proposed six measures to clean up the corruption and special interest collusion in Washington, DC. These are:
★ FIRST, propose a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.
★ SECOND, a hiring freeze on all federal employees to reduce the federal workforce through attrition (exempting military, public safety, and public health).
★ THIRD, a requirement that for every new federal regulation, two existing regulations must be eliminated.
★ FOURTH, a five-year ban on White House and Congressional officials becoming lobbyists after they leave government service.
★ FIFTH, a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government.
★ SIXTH, a complete ban on foreign lobbyists raising money for American elections.

Here are some questions:

Your article says: "Lawmakers have sometimes grumbled about the OCE, claiming it makes public relations mountains out of ethical molehills."

So, that's it? 

Alabamians have been blown on hard by the above described 2016 Presidential election campaign. 

Did Alabamians hear anything from their representatives in Congress during the past 18 months whether Congress was broken? 

Did any of Alabama's reps in Congress say, "Houston, we have a problem here with Congress that the American people need to address?"

No, the reps kept themselves covered up for these 18 months.

Then on the eve of the start of the new Congress, the American people hear "oh we have public relations mountains being made out of ethical molehills."

Is that what the 2016 Presidential election was about in their minds, ethical molehills?

Tim, why don't you ask them that, whether their view of the Presidential election is that it was only about ethical molehills.  Maybe if you ask them that, we can get to the bottom of how well Alabama's reps in Congress are serving Alabamians.

Thank you, Tim.

January 4, 2017
Alabama lawmakers defend their votes after ethics panel backlash
By Tim Lockette, Star Staff Writer, 8 hrs ago
A vote by congressional Republicans to strip powers from a key House of Representatives ethics panel left Alabama’s delegation with a lot of explaining to do Tuesday.
Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, voted Monday for rules changes that would have gutted the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. 
Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Mobile, says he voted no. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville, missed the Monday vote, but didn’t object on Tuesday when Republicans withdrew the changes.
The rest of Alabama’s House delegation was silent on their vote on the ethics panel changes — a vote that quickly blossomed into 2017’s first political dust-up.
“I hope this is a lesson to them,” said Tom Fitton, president of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch. “Americans really think Washington is corrupt.”
Congress convened for its 2017 session Tuesday, swearing in new members and preparing to vote on House and Senate rules. But even before the session started, members of the Republican House majority came together to decide on the rules they’d send to the full House for approval.
Those rules included a plan to strip the OCE — an independent ethics watchdog created by House members in 2009 — of much of its authority. Under the proposal, the panel would have answered to the House Ethics Committee, composed of lawmakers from both parties, and would no longer accept anonymous tips.
Lawmakers have sometimes grumbled about the OCE, claiming it makes public relations mountains out of ethical molehills.
Concerns about disorder in the ethics complaints process are valid, which is why Rep. Roby supported a policy change to further empower the Ethics Committee to do its job,” wrote Roby spokesman Todd Stacy in an email to The Star. Roby was one of the few lawmakers to explain her reasons for voting for the changes.
The only current Alabama lawmaker to be investigated by the panel is Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, who was probed in 2010 over $941 in travel money. The final report from that investigation was 144 pages long.
It’s unclear how Aderholt voted on the ethics changes. Because the initial vote to change the ethics panel was an internal party decision, the vote was held behind closed doors. Attempts to reach Aderholt as well as Mike Rogers of Saks and Gary Palmer of Birmingham for comment on the vote were unsuccessful Tuesday.
One Alabama lawmaker, Democrat Terri Sewell of Birmingham, never got a chance to vote on the changes. Republicans were scheduled to bring the changes to a vote of the full House on Tuesday, but they dropped the plan after it generated public backlash.
“I think they came to their senses when they saw how important transparency is to the American people,” said Jordan Libovitz, a spokesman for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also known as CREW.
Both CREW and Judicial Watch are officially nonpartisan groups, though CREW is widely seen as politically liberal while Judicial Watch is conservative. Both groups joined several other watchdog organizations in December to send a letter to the House asking them to leave the OCE untouched.
Asked why the independent ethics panel was needed, Libowitz noted that the Senate lacks a similar body — and hasn’t seriously punished an ethics violator in years.
“It’s incredibly important to their nonpartiality that they continue to be an independent organization,” he said.
Fitton said there’s little appetite among the House Ethics Committee — composed of House members — to take on tough ethical questions.
“The committee is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats,” he said. “It’s not a recipe for aggressive investigation.”
Brooks, the Huntsville lawmaker, said in a prepared statement that he supported the Tuesday decision to kill the changes to the ethics panel. His staff said he missed the initial vote on the changes because of a travel delay.
“He didn’t have the opportunity to vote,” Brooks spokeswoman Annalyse Keller said.
In his statement, Brooks didn’t completely reject the changes, but did say there should be more public discussion before changes are made.
In my view, it is inappropriate to consider an issue of this magnitude with so little public debate and so little time for proper evaluation and consideration,” Brooks was quoted as saying.
When Republicans decided to withdraw the changes, they did so by consent vote — meaning no one counted votes because there were no objections.
The House is expected to reconsider the changes later this year.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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