Keeping our lawmakers honest

Something interesting occurred down in Richmond this week. Or rather, something did not happen. Lawmakers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to go slow on establishing a Code of Conduct for themselves. I know. Go figure. Delegate Robert Marshall, a Prince William Republican, had been demanding fast action in the relatively short window of opportunity that lawmakers are allowed to make and change laws this year (and we all know, the shorter the better).

This all comes about because of that sexual harassment charge last summer against former Speaker S. Vance Wilkins, Jr. (The significant term in that last sentence is “former.”) A Code of Conduct would tell our elected officials how to conduct themselves while working in Richmond and back home, where they spend most of their time raising money and campaigning for the next election.

Theoretically, the code would provide a mechanism for investigating public complaints about lawmaker behavior. Media reports say the code would have called for “broad new standards” of conduct, (although given the subject matter, perhaps they could have chosen a more appropriate phrase. But I digress.) Yet citing the possibility that political opponents could use a new code to cause all types of embarrassing mischief shortly before election time, the measure has been placed on a back burner for now.

This is a somewhat curious reaction by those of both major parties because it’s difficult to oppose such a code without appearing to be hypocritical at the same time. Yes, lawmakers tell us, we certainly do not wish to appear insensitive to dastardly inappropriate conduct but at the same time we must be careful that we are not unfairly victimized by those who would do us political harm. Yeah, right.

This may all sound a bit too familiar. It’s not unlike the big boys in Congress who rarely ever impose laws that adversely affect themselves. Nor is it unlike the U.S. Catholic Church, which has appeared more interested in preventing priests from being unjustly accused of wrongdoing, than with the young victims it has left traumatized in its wake in recent decades.

Some in Richmond argue, with partial conviction, that there is no need for a conduct code because, as one lawmaker put it, “we’ve only had one problem since 1619.” No, that’s not a typo he really meant the early 17th century. But how many potential complaints involving elected officials have gone unreported in the past 384 years, of course, is anyone’s guess. (My guess is 5,276!)

As for what a code might include, that would be the easy part. As a special service to our lawmakers, here are a few helpful suggestions for conducting yourselves:

Don’t lie, cheat or steal from your constituents. (Okay, forget about the lying part.)

A response to a constituent question should never include the words, “Sure, that’s doable for a $5,000 donation and free use of your credit cards.”

Any hiring process for your office must completely exclude the terms: Being attractive is a big plus!; If you’re a looker, we may have a job for you!; Ugly people need not apply!; Equal Opportunity Employer some being more equal than others.

Never grovel or drool in public (except, of course, when seeking voter support).

Refrain from asking local police to “please harass my political enemies when time permits.”

Under no circumstances should you introduce your spouse to other women with, “This is my first wife, Glenda.” (Especially if her name is not Glenda.)

Replace your “KingOfTheWorld” vanity plates as soon as possible.

When holding constituents’ babies, to not threaten to keep the child unless you get their vote.

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected]

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