Code of Conduct

House Speaker Rusty Bowers answers questions last week about lawmaker ethics and the failure until now to set up a committee to come up with a code of conduct for lawmakers.

After promising more than a year ago to come up with a code of conduct, our Legislature has decided maybe it’s time.

Why now? Well, there are three good reasons: David Stringer, Don Shooter and David Cook.

But what exactly is a code of conduct and how will it be applied to state lawmakers?

According to Wikipedia, a code of conduct is an agreed-upon set of “moral principles that govern a person’s behavior or the conducting of an activity.”

A code of conduct is a set of rules outlining the social norms or proper practices for an individual. In its 2007 International Good Practice Guidance, “Defining and Developing an Effective Code of Conduct for Organizations,” the International Federation of Accountants provided the following working definition:

“Principles, values, standards or rules of behavior that guide the decisions, procedures and systems of an organization in a way that (a) contributes to the welfare of its key stakeholders, and (b) respects the rights of all constituents affected by its operations.”

In other words, being a good person.

It is a shame that in this day and age we still need to come up with a set of rules governing good behavior. Most of the world’s great religions did that thousands of years ago.

But now bad behavior is becoming common place, and thanks to social media it spreads faster and reaches more people.

This week state House Speaker Rusty Bowers directed the Ethics Committee, which is chaired by Rep. T.J. Shope of Coolidge, to come up with a code of conduct for lawmakers — including whether they can be ousted for their public comments.

The decision comes after a string of embarrassing behavior of lawmakers over the last year.

Stringer resigned last week in the wake of disclosure of a 1983 Maryland arrest report that indicated he had had sex with underage boys. That information followed a series of racially charged public comments he had made over the year.

Shooter, a Yuma representative, was ousted by the House over charges of sexual harassment of other lawmakers and colleagues. Cook, of Globe, was arrested for DUI. He pleaded guilty and served a day in jail. No legislative action was taken against him.

Democrats said that forming the long-promised committee to craft a code would finally decide what is — and is not — acceptable from elected officials.

Stringer, Shooter and Cook are all Republicans.

Now the challenge will be coming up with a code that doesn’t infringe on free speech. I don’t envy Shope with the task ahead of him.

Republicans have drawn a line in the sand, saying that Stringer’s possibly racist comments were separate from his arrest record, and possibly lying about it.

Shope said that it was unlikely that his panel, had it completed its work before Stringer resigned, would have recommended that he be removed for his comments.

In a meeting of the Republican Men’s Club, Stringer called immigration in general an “existential threat to the United States” and said America’s “melting pot” exists for “people of European descent,” and that immigrants from south of the border don’t assimilate because they maintain connections with their home countries.

A month later, he told Arizona State University students that African Americans “don’t blend in, they always look different.”

Democrats counter that if Stringer had made those comments on the House floor, the legislative body would have ruled him out of order and taken disciplinary action.

It is true that many private entities have codes of conduct that govern public behavior as well as work behavior. Professional athletes have been banned and CEOs fired for bad personal behavior, so the Democrats have a point.

But some of the responsibility for electing good people falls on the voters. It is important for us to pay attention to the personal conduct of the people we elect to represent us, no matter their political affiliation.

Yes, character still counts.

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You can contact Andy Howell at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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