Zaleski: The anti-ethics establishment gets all huffy
FARGO -- It didn’t take long for the entrenched political establishment to begin a crusade to undermine the wishes of North Dakota voters who in November approved Measure 1, the ethics commission question, by a strong margin. When I made that point in a Sunday column a few weeks ago, two establishment regulars got their knickers in a knot, and said I was misrepresenting the motivations of the opposition. Christopher Dodson, the highly capable executive director and general counsel of the North Dakota Catholic Conference, and Bette Grande, a former Republican legislator from Fargo who writes a column for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, did an intellectually dishonest quick step around the core of the issue, which is this: North Dakotans voted for transparency in government and campaign financing; and they expect the Legislature to carry out the mandate, no matter how difficult it is to get it done. Period.
Dodson complained in a letter to the editor published Nov. 29 that my characterizing his organization as “fat cat” was unfair and inaccurate. He said the Catholic Conference does not contribute money to candidates, does not endorse candidates, and does not so much as buy a candidate or a legislator a cup of coffee during political campaigns or while Dodson is lobbying at the Legislature. He emphasized that the organization’s role is moral persuasion on matters that are central to the Catholic tradition. Fair enough.
But it seems a tad incongruous that purveyors of such a noble mission would be against sunshine in government and politics. It seems contradictory that Dodson and the conference would rather see government operate in the dark, would rather not know who is buying influence with campaign contributions, and would resist a mechanism to investigate ethical lapses by elected office holders. You know, ethics -- a measure of right and wrong -- which, it seems to me, ought to be of primary interest to all religious praxis.
Alas, the wretched record of the Catholic Church’s decades-long campaign to protect clergy who were guilty of child abuse, suggests advice on ethics and transparency from the church, its surrogates or its defenders is hardly tenable.
In her Dec. 2 Forum column, Grande alleged the measure was poorly written, can’t do what it says it will do, and that it will discourage North Dakotans from participating in the political process. That’s prattle and hooey.
The bipartisan group that championed the measure was careful to write broad but inviolable principles within which lawmakers have latitude to honor the intent of the measure and legislate pragmatic implementation. If the Legislature’s majority members, many of whom advocated a “no” vote, stall or try to change the measure’s lucid provisions, all hell will break loose. They will be skewered. Most legislators are not dolts. Most are honorable. They have the smarts to respect the voters. They will cobble together an ethics watchdog system that comports with the spirit and directives of the measure.
As for Grande, she served in the state House of Representatives beginning in 1997. She was booted out in 2014 by the voters of then reliably Republican Fargo District 41 -- where they know her best.