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Both locally and nationally, polls consistently show that faith in government is at an all-time low. Whether it’s the permeation of special-interest groups, politicians using their position to gain power and push forward their own special projects, or an outright lack of honesty, California residents are questioning the efficacy of government.
Orange County is a perfect example of many of these issues. Very recently the Orange County Grand Jury, citing the county’s 40-year history of political corruption, recommended the creation of an independent ethics commission to advise elected officials of ethical pitfalls and increase confidence in government. The Grand Jury released a lengthy report that detailed the importance of a commission and cited the decade long history of political scandal that has included the Board of Supervisors, the local Sheriff, members of Congress and local political donors. Dozens have been sent to prison.
There’s no room or need to detail the endless stories of corruption in this space, but a commission is clearly needed. As a believer that government can be limited I’m generally opposed to more government groups and more red tape, but in this situation I absolutely agree with the commission and the need for oversight. With the lack of an ethics commission it’s up to the members of government to police themselves, something that clearly is lacking. Orange County politics over the past forty years has been marked by such upheaval, but also a lot of familiar faces who have made careers out of leveraging their political connections. While bolstering their own status many elected officials have become rich and powerful and propelled many others to position of power—often at the cost of efficient government.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson disagrees with the Grand Jury’s proposal, saying that the ethics of any oversight body or blue ribbon commission would be “no better than the ethics of the elected officials who appoint them.” (Voice of OC)
According to Nelson it’s up to the news media and the voters to hold government officials accountable:
“A truly informed public that votes is the ethics commission,” said Nelson.
I couldn’t disagree more with Nelson, as does the Grand Jury. In theory Nelson is absolutely correct, and an informed public does have the ability to vote out elected officials and hold them accountable in a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately Orange County politics have evolved in such an insider manner with so much horse trading, dark money , connections and special interest groups that it’s virtually impossible for the voters to truly vote out the problematic officials. With so much dark money in politics at the local level and the development of what literally is a political class of career politicians occupying so many roles the concept of “vote the bums out” simply can’t occur. The idea of an outsider candidate who runs a campaign to restore our local political system is a very novel idea, but also quaint when you look at the reality of our system.
So the Grand Jury is right and we do need to come up with an ethics commission that is not appointed by members or part of any group they will oversee. It will be a challenge to find individuals that can truly oversee Orange County politics in an independent fashion, but it is badly needed.
Re-building faith in local government is the first step in getting things back on track and starts with ensuring that when voters go to the polls they have confidence that the politicians they are voting for will handle themselves in an principled altruistic manner. Over time we will once and for all remove the negativity and self-centered behavior that so often derails many of the good that government can accomplish. I fully support the Grand Jury and hope that the current government representatives fully back this needed ethics commission.