Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk envisions the Statehouse struggle with ethics not unlike an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
"I've been thinking about how similar this is to a 12-step program for addicts," said Werk. "Acceptance is the first step on the road to recovery. It just feels like we haven't gotten to that point."
The five-term legislator worries that while ethics got a big media splash in the opening days of the 2012 Legislature, lawmakers and the media have moved on to a flurry of other issues.
"The Redistricting Commission blew up last week; this week it's education; next week will be something else," said Werk. "Without a spotlight on ethics, it's pretty easy for people, especially in leadership, to think that it's blown over. They might say, 'Nobody's paying attention.' The glare of the cameras is gone and without the glare, they think they don't need to do anything. From my perspective, this is the fundamental foundation of everything that goes on in state government."
Werk pointed to a folder filled with proposed legislation, each carrying the same theme: the Independent Ethics Commission Act, the Idaho Conflict of Interest Act, the Lobbyist Restriction Act, the Whistleblower Reporting and Protection Act, the Idaho Public Official Accountability Act, the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act and the Pay to Play Act.
Werk is concerned that GOP leadership may balk at any or all of the measures, but he also said that a good number of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle have the appetite for what he called "a change in the culture."
"In the rank and file, I think it's very fair to say that there is concern about what's been happening," he said. "In the last year, it has become a continuing litany of one ethics issue after another."
And Democrats, according to Werk, aren't immune to the problem.
"Look, it's not that the Democrats are pure of heart," said Werk. "But we have a situation that, for the past two decades, the power in Idaho has been firmly planted in a single party with a super majority and the capability of doing virtually whatever they wish to do."
For now, a bipartisan ethics working group--comprised of two members of each party from both the House and Senate--has taken up the issue, meeting two to three times a week.
"It's important that this stay as a high-profile issue," said Werk. "If we can't fix this, everything else is suspect. It doesn't matter what the topic is."