Nebraska ethics rank high, but there's more to it than that

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

We don't understand it, but some Nebraskans feel they are somehow deprived by living here, missing out on things like mountain climbing, surfing and major cultural events -- unless you can drive to Lincoln or Omaha, perhaps.

But that calm landscape, sparse population and down-home, conservative culture offers advantages no Disneyland could provide.

The latest example is a report that ranks the Nebraska Unicameral in the top five when it comes to ethics.

A study by the State Integrity Investigation -- sponsored by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity -- gave Nebraska a B- score on its Corruption Risk Report Card, a score of 80 percent and fifth among the 50 states.

The state got A's for state budget processes, procurement, redistricting and internal auditing.

We got a B+ for lobbying disclosure, a B- for state civil service management, a C for ethics enforcement agencies, C- ratings for executive accountability, judicial accountability, state pension fund management, state insurance commissions, and a D+ for legislative accountability.

Before we get too proud about the ranking, however, we should note that Illinois -- which has sent four governors to prison, including Rod Blagojevich, who was recently sentenced to 14 years in prison for lying about a scheme to "sell" Barack Obama's old Senate seat -- was ranked 10th in the study.

Other small, sparsely populated states similar to Nebraska -- Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas -- ranked toward the bottom, mostly because they relied on word-of-mouth to enforce ethics among their politicians.

Perhaps Nebraska is still small enough that we keep an eye on our neighbors, but big enough that we know that corruption in high places is possible and needs to be dealt with.

But it is encouraging to know it is possible to be on a first-name basis with your state senator, or a call to the Speaker of the Legislature can open an important meeting on the Keystone XL pipeline to the public, an example cited by integrity investigation reporter Kevin O'Hanlon.

We've editorialized against term limits, saying they force competent, experienced legislators out of office just when they become effective.

Supporters say term limits promote open government by allowing more potential candidates to get involved, and that is a valid point.

But every time a new group of senators takes office, journalists and open government proponents have to fight the same old battles to maintain public access to information and the legislative and budgeting process.

The same goes for local government, where airing of issues and encouragement of puplic participation can easily fall victim to the promise of expediency.

Read more about the study at http://www.stateintegrity.org/

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