State Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock), a champion of ethics reform and chairman of the House freshman caucus, discussed and debated the possibilities for ethics changes with Political Animals Club president Rex Nelson, former communications director for Gov. Mike Huckabee (R ).
In light of the scandals of the last week, which led to the resignation of State Sen. Paul Bookout (D-Jonesboro) and an undetermined outcome of Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s (R ) campaign debt spending, Nelson and Sabin offered differing perspectives on the ramifications.
Sabin said he is going to use the events to push for additional legislation to tighten up loopholes and strengthen reporting and oversight at the Ethics Commission.
“I’m going to be more motivated to do so going forward. I think my colleagues will join me and I think we’ll have a very serious package that we’ll be able to work on in a bipartisan basis, and again, get some of these rules passed so that what Sen. Bookout did and what others have done won’t be possible again in the future,” Sabin said.
Despite Sabin’s confidence, Nelson said he’s less sure that the legislature will self-regulate itself based on previous years of shortcomings.
“We live in that world where perception is reality and I think the perception of too many Arkansans is that the state Ethics Commission is the proverbial ‘toothless tiger’,” said Nelson.
“I don’t think the legislature itself will do much,” he added, citing the political fallout from the Nick Wilson scandal in the late 1990′s, which led to a boost for Republican political popularity, including his former boss.
“The thing that interests me as political animal is what effect, if any, does this have on the 2014 election, especially for legislative seats,” Nelson said.
Sabin said he questions if the ethics challenges work in one party’s favor over the other. With examples of lapses on both sides of the political spectrum and no certainty as to whether the scandal is at its conclusion, Sabin says an “important threshold” has been crossed and he sees bipartisan political will to fix a “broken system” and give the Ethics Commission “more teeth.”
“I’m confident after everything that’s happened these last few weeks we can go into the 2015 session and pass some of this,” he said.
Sabin and Nelson also discussed state races including the race for Governor, Senator and the potential role that the Fourth Congressional District may play in the 2014 election cycle.