After revelations yesterday that Senators Raggio and Hardy had been advised that they could not vote on the legislature’s proposed tax hikes due to possible ethics violations, Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford introduced a resolution that would put political expediency ahead of ethical concerns. The resolution would remove the restraints of the legislature’s ethics rules in order to allow all legislators to vote on “legislative measures of immense statewide importance which globally impact all citizens of this State.”
Essentially, Senator Horsford’s resolution would change hard ethics rules into more of a limp array of suggestions for legislative behavior. According to this thinking, while ethics are good some of the time, they can be discarded at will when politicians really, really want to.
The resolution makes a mockery of the state’s ethics rules. If ethics rules can be discarded arbitrarily when legislators consider it to be politically convenient, then there is no point to having ethics rules in the first place.
Nevada’s Legislative Counsel determined that Senators Raggio and Hardy should not vote on the measures because individuals with whom they have close private business ties have testified, lobbied and taken strong positions on the measures. As such, there is legitimate concern that these two Senators face conflict between their duty to serve the public interest and their private interest in the success of their business partners. And this is not a new issue for Senator Raggio. A check of the Legislative website reveals at least four times earlier in this very session where Raggio recused himself from votes because his law-firm partners were vigorously active on the particular issues in question.
Senator Horsford would like to suddenly remove these ethics rules so that the votes of Senators Raggio and Hardy can help him pass the nearly $800 million in new taxes that Horsford wants as a central component of his government-growth package.
Yet, any attempt to sidestep these legitimate ethical concerns in service to political convenience is, in itself, unethical. And certainly those concerns do not go away, merely because the money at stake is much greater.
Such actions should not be permitted regardless of what type of bill is being voted on.