Former lawmakers show support for ethics initiative

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Former Gov. Olene Walker on Tuesday endorsed a citizens ethics initiative that calls for creating an independent ethics commission and a code of conduct for state lawmakers.

"Utah should have the highest integrity rating in the nation. We don't deserve an F. We deserve to have legislation that leads the nation in having ethics and integrity in our state," Walker said.

The Republican's comments show the GOP is far from united in its opposition to the initiative even though the party's governing committee adopted a resolution over the weekend intended to erode support for the measure. She was one of 35 former state lawmakers from both parties who publicly stated their support for the initiative Tuesday.

"It is with some degree of personal conflict that I'm here today because this is an issue that I disagree with some of my close friends in the Legislature and in the Republican Party because we are on opposite sides of the ethics legislation question," Walker said during a Capitol news conference.

Among other things, the initiative would limit campaign contributions and prohibit legislators from accepting gifts from lobbyists.

"I realize the majority of the items are relatively small -- tickets, meals, travel. But I have come to realize that such small items are not worth the impression that the public has of negative aspects of lobbyists influencing legislatures," Walker said.

Opposition to the initiative is primarily being driven by sitting Republican legislators. Lawmakers say they favor disclosure over blanket bans or limits. They fear getting re-elected could be difficult if sitting lawmakers are targeted in an ethics investigation.

The resolution adopted by the GOP says it supports ethics in government but believes the proposed initiative is constitutionally flawed, although it does not say how.

Under Utah's constitution, state lawmakers are responsible for disciplining themselves for ethical violations, although it rarely happens.

The initiative proposed by Utahns For Ethical Government calls for an independent commission to make recommendations to the Legislature, which would then be required to publicly vote.

To get the initiative on the 2010 ballot, 95,000 signatures must be gathered by April from registered voters in 26 of the state's 29 Senate districts.

Lawmakers did pass some ethics reform bills earlier this year, but there are many people who don't think those measures go far enough to create real change.

Story compiled by AP and Richard Piatt

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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