Former Gov. explains support of ethics reform

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Former Utah Gov. Olene Walker is speaking out about what is expected to be one of Utah's big political issues this year: ethics. She signed a citizen's petition on ethics reform, and on Wednesday she explained why.

When Utahns for Ethical Government held a rally recently, the headline was clear: Utah's 15th governor, Olene Walker, is backing a comprehensive ethics reform petition. She says she made the move after careful deliberation.

"I had to ask myself the question: If not me, who? Who is better qualified, having been both in the legislative arena and the executive office?" Walker says. "But I felt like there's a time in your life when you have to do what's right."

The former governor, who served eight years in the legislature, says she's alarmed by the spectacular rise in campaign contributions, the vast majority from special interests. It's something ethics reforms would limit.

Walker's first legislative campaign cost $4,000; her last, $20,000. Just 20 years later, candidates are raising $100,000, even more.

"That's just not right for the state of Utah. And when you get huge, huge contributions, it has to make a difference," Walker says.

Another worry: big-time lobbying. Now there are upwards of 500 Capitol Hill lobbyists, many hired by cities and counties.

"Somehow, as we've evolved, the feeling is that if you don't hire a lobbyist, you'll never be heard. That's not right," Walker says.

Walker says solutions include ethics training and an independent ethics commission.

"I still feel we have a great state and a good democracy, and I want to see it preserved," Walker says.

Some current lawmakers argue the reforms are unnecessary, too broad and will have unintended consequences. But Walker predicts reformers will gather the necessary signatures and the measures will be on the ballot next fall.


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