To get his vote, state Rep. Jim Cole (R-Forsyth) says the next House speaker will have to sign a code of behavior that he’s drafted. Cole, who is not running for a leadership plan, refers to his proposed code as a “seven-point action plan.”
His first requirement: Don’t sleep around on your spouse.
His second requirement: Don’t embarrass the people you lead.
Cole’s code also calls for an end to “physical” gifts from lobbyists and would require the suspension of House members from leadership duties upon arrest. Presumably that would include such things as DUI violations.
In addition, Cole wants an end to the “hawk” system that currently allows the House Republican leadership to pack committees in order pass or block legislation. Other members of the GOP rank-and-file have also demanded an end to the system.
Here is Cole’s proposal, with a few minor editing touches:
1. Upholding a higher standard: A leadership code of ethics
We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. None of us are perfect and we rely on God’s grace. Truer words have never been spoken. While we are all human, it is right to expect that those of us who seek leadership will receive a greater degree of scrutiny and be held to a higher level of expectations. The cornerstone of this higher standard is fidelity to one’s family and vows of marriage, yet it is also broader than that.
The next Speaker, and the entire leadership team, should take a pledge on their first day in office to:
– Be faithful to one’s spouse and family;
– Avoid embarrassing public behavior;
– Proudly and strongly defend the integrity, independence and institutions of the House of Representatives;
– Conduct public appearances, correspondence, and negotiations with other elected leaders and branches of government with respect and decorum;
– Pay taxes on time and in full;
– Avoid the appearance of impropriety in personal business;
– [And] avoid the appearance of any quid pro quo in the handling of legislation.
2. Protect the integrity, Independence, and institutions of the House of Representatives
The critical constitutional precedent of separation of powers is meaningless without a strong House of Representatives and a respected Speaker and leadership team. We are the voice of our constituents and collectively we need a House leadership team that speaks with authority and is respected in the negotiations of the legislative process. The House’s independence, integrity, its speaker and its members must be respected by any and all who interact with our body.
However, being respected is about more than an office or a title. True respect comes from respecting others. The new speaker must uphold a high standard of respect amongst House colleagues and respect for the other branches of government. The new speaker and leadership team must also fiercely protect the independence and traditions of the House and defend our legislative positions with honor and skill.
There is a time to fight and a time for working together. Our next Speaker and leaders must know the difference and, when it’s time to fight, do so with honor.
3. A new standard of ethical excellence
In the business world, when someone is trying to make a big sale, it is considered normal and ethical to entertain a prospective client by taking them to dinner or a sporting event. For example, I attend sporting events all the time with friends, constituents, other elected officials and public affairs representatives. There is nothing wrong with this. However, I believe the line is crossed in business and government when physical gifts are given or received by those promoting legislation or doing business with the state. The same common sense standards that apply in the corporate arena should apply in the government arena, too.
To accomplish this we should take two key steps – adopt a new physical gift ban rule and toughen up enforcement of the rules.
We should adopt a new ban on receiving physical gifts in excess of $25. There is nothing wrong with the garden club providing us cookies in our office. There is something very wrong with accepting a new set of golf clubs. We should work with our colleagues across the aisle to forge a bipartisan update to our ethics laws to ensure a consistent, fair standard.
Further, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. If a member is arrested for a crime, their leadership duties or assignments should be suspended until the issue is resolved by the legal system. The House Ethics Committee should also be empowered and encouraged to aggressively punish, even expel, members who willfully refuse to pay their taxes or engage in quid pro quo deals with any entity.
4. Open the process to new ideas
Every organization eventually becomes stale without fresh blood and new ideas. The nature of the legislative process is that newly elected members are often shut out of leadership decisions, so the fresh air of new ideas is often excluded. To help facilitate leadership that is broader than any single individual, the committee on assignments should be reconfigured.
The new committee on assignments should chaired by the speaker and include the leadership team (speaker pro-tempore, majority leader, majority whip, majority caucus chair, majority caucus vice-chair, and the majority caucus secretary). Further, the House as a whole should be allowed to elect a member of the committee on assignments and the combined freshman and sophomore classes of the House should be allowed to elect a member. This new arrangement will insure that new members of the body are included in leadership decisions and the voice of the House is consistently heard.
5. Better communication
A common complaint of late is that the caucus has not been kept informed of the leadership’s actions or “game plan” for moving forward both during these trying times and during the session. To help resolve this lack of communication, the new speaker should appoint a member to serve in a new role of member communications chair. This member will serve as the speaker’s constant communicator to the Republican caucus and the entire House about the latest developments during session and beyond to help keep everyone in the loop, especially during difficult times.
6. Respect the legislative process
The creation of so-called “hawks” was a mistake. It sends the wrong signal to the House membership and the public that the House leadership and the Republican majority is afraid to let the legislative process work as it is supposed to work. The new speaker should abolish this practice.
7. Accountability in campaign operations
The campaign operations of both parties in the House are multi-million dollar operations. Just like in business, accountability is essential when it comes to money. No one person should have complete control. The new speaker should create a new House Republican caucus campaign committee that is governed by a board of seven Republican House members with each member of the leadership team having the power to appoint one member.
At the end of every election cycle there should be an audit conducted of all campaign funds raised and expended by the committee, and this audit should be made available to all Republican caucus members.
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