Sunday, May 14, 2006

Delph's Contract With Indiana

Sen. Mike Delph (R), an appointed member of our state senate who is seeking elective public office for the first time, proposes a Contract With Indiana ala Newt Gingrich's Contract With America from 1994 in a guest column in the Star today. Some of the ideas are quite worthy of consideration; others are nothing more than feel-good empty promises. Let's take a look at his ideas.

Term limits for leadership positions. Delph believes Senate leaders and committee chairman should be limited to a tenure of no more than 8 years. The current system allowed Sen. Garton to hold the President Pro Tem's position for 26 years. Former Sen. Larry Borst chaired the Senate Finance Committee for a quarter century. That's too long for anyone to occupy any public office. It's hard to argue with this idea.

End Legislative Health Insurance Perk. This one is a no-brainer. As Delph explains, "The public loses trust when they perceive we feather our own nests in our positions." This "bad idea" has to go. No arguments here on that one. AI would add that the public contribution to legislators' pensions should be scaled back from the current match of $4 by the taxpayers for every $1 contributed by a legislator. The contribution should be no more than a 1-1 match.

Bar Lobbyists From Legislators Workspace/More Lobbyist Reporting. Delph picks up on an idea thrown out be Sen. Brent Steele (R), a candidate to replace Garton as Senate President Pro Tem. The plan is to bar lobbyists from entering the workspace of senators. At first blush, it may not seem like such a bad idea. But for lobbyists who don't have big allowances to entertain legislators outside the State House over lunch or dinner, their primary point of contact with legislators is in their State House workspace. Such a ban would actually place some lobbyists at a disadvantage to well-heeled lobbyists. Delph would also require lawmakers to report any accepted invitation from lobbyists for meals or entertainment to be reported and made available to the public. As it currently stands, any single gift a lawmaker receives in excess of $100, or in the aggregate of $250, must be publicly reported by the lobbyist and the legislator. That has had no deterring impact on the amount of money lobbyists spend entertaining legislators in the form of lavish dinners, free tickets to sporting events and concerts and free travel. What is really needed to level the playing field among influence peddlers is to ban all gifts to legislators.

Spending restraint. Delph says, "Before any spending decision, we Republicans should ask ourselves if it is the proper role of government to pursue. We should be cutting government, not growing it." That's much easier said than done, and Delph offers no specific plan for cutting government spending. Reforming the state budget process, we might suggest, is a place to start.

Legislative Prayer. Ah--yes, Delph has to throw something in for the Christian right. He says, "Regular order should be restored in the area of prayer. Senators should invite members of the faith-based community in their districts to open our sessions in prayer." Please don't waste any more of our time on this phony issue. Give specificate instructions to guest clergy to deliver a non-sectarian prayer; if they disobey the instructions, don't invite them back. Let's move on.

Consideration of All Introduced Legislation By The Full Body. Delph believes that "all legislation that finds its way through the cumbersome legislative process should be allowed to the floor regardless of the leader's personal position on the given issue." That's code for saying that we should allow every whacko idea that is generated by the Christian right to have a full hearing before the full Senate. Given the mean-spiritedness and poor public policy represented by so many of these ideas, it would be foolish to remove the leadership control mechanism from the process. It is currently the only check in the process saving us from the extremist chaos which will follow in its train if it is removed.

Controlling Taxes. Delph says, "Taxes should never be raised unless natural disaster or war demands reconsideration. Revenue-neutral initiatives and power devolution to local government are good unless it means more financial burden on our constituents." That approach is neither practical nor workable. If you're truly interested in holding down taxes, control the spending. It's that pure and simple. But changing circumstances and economic events can overtaken even the best-laid plans.

Ethics Reform. Delph says, "The Senate Ethics Committee should be more rigorously used to vet potential conflicts of interest in our official duties compared to our civilian jobs." And AI would second that. Delph's own personal employment points up a problem with many of our so-called citizen legislators. According to Delph's biography, he is Senior Director of Government Affairs for Comcast. Gee, isn't that a lobbyist? And Delph is not alone. A number of lawmakers hold jobs in the public and private sector which seem tailored to their jobs as lawmakers. Something must be done to end this practice. By my count, no fewer than 10% of the current lawmakers may fall into this category.

Maintaining Separation of Powers. Delph argues, "Neither the governor nor any other actor or entity should ever control the order or agenda of the Senate. The Senate should work its will according to its membership." It's hard to argue with that one. AI would remind Delph that he would do well to stop promoting the agenda of the Christian right, which is to impose their narrow fundamentalist Christian views on everyone else and relegate persons who disagree with their agenda to second-class citizen status.

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