When do a citizen lawmaker’s efforts at exerting influence become a conflict of interest? The Indiana General Assembly can’t seem to figure it out, giving a pass to a legislative leader who used his position to benefit his family business. As House Speaker Pro Tem P. Eric Turner walks away from an ethics scandal unbruised and nearly $2 million richer, it’s time that voters demand the higher standards legislators have failed to approve.
House Speaker Brian Bosma said this week that Turner will not be sanctioned by the House after an ethics investigation determined he did not violate current rules.
The ethics committee completed its review, and the review was to take no action but to take a hard look at our disclosure statutes and statements, and that’s what we’re doing now, Bosma said Tuesday.
Turner, the speaker’s second-in-command, abstained from voting in public. But he lobbied in the GOP caucus to kill a proposed moratorium on new nursing home construction. His behind-closed-door dealings angered at least one colleague, who pointed out to the members of the media that Turner was an investor in his son’s nursing home development company. The moratorium, proposed by Republican Sen. Patricia Miller, threatened multiple projects planned by Mainstreet Property Group, a company owned by the lawmaker, his son and several others. The state offered $345,000 in tax credits for a Terre Haute project that Mainstreet documents show will earn Turner about $1.8 million.
If one House Republican showed character in disclosing Turner’s hypocrisy, it’s fair for voters to wonder why the others supported his bid to kill the nursing home moratorium.
How did the Cicero businessman convince them that their Senate colleagues were wrong about the legislation? Were the others uncomfortable with Turner’s lobbying? Did he convince House members that his conflict did not compromise the integrity of the General Assembly?
We’ll never know. But we can remind all legislators that the low bar Turner was able to clear is in sharp contrast to legislative standards elsewhere. His actions would not have been allowed in Kentucky, where tough standards were recently revised to become even tougher.
Lawmakers in the Bluegrass State apparently recognized that a Statehouse scandal harmed the reputations of more than the 18 lobbyists and lawmakers convicted on corruption charges. The scandal led to the creation of an independent nine-member board that oversees lawmakers and lobbyists.
With many veteran lawmakers choosing retirement, the young and inexperienced group of Indiana legislators needs to hear the lessons of Martin K. Chip Edwards, Phillip E. Gutman and Michael K. Phillips. Once respected leaders, each was involved in a scandal that ended his political career and harmed the reputation of the entire legislature.
As the General Assembly begins to consider tightening its rules, it needs to hear from voters. A part-time legislature served by citizen-lawmakers shouldn’t serve as a cover for glaring conflicts of interest.