Insiders split down the middle this week when asked whether lawmakers ought to be paid full-time salaries instead of the $600 per month they make now. The piece divided carefully: 48 percent favor paying lawmakers a full salary, while 51 percent would leave things as they are (the other 1 percent was undecided).
Two-thirds believe officeholders should be required to disclose more details about their personal income and assets than they do now. That's been in the news, with state Rep. Kino Flores, D-Palmview, set for sentencing next week on convictions related to his financial disclosures. Only 30 percent of insiders say current disclosure laws are enough.
Their comments were pretty interesting. We got responses from 156 people this week, and they jumped right into the open question, which went like this: "Several Texas lawmakers have been in trouble in recent months over issues related to personal income and ethics — using their public positions for personal gain. Should state law be changed to make that harder to get away with, or to make it less attractive in the first place?" The full set of answers is attached, but here's a sampling:
• "In theory, yes. However, I don't trust this incoming legislature to be able to pass legislation to address the issue, so it should be left for a saner time."
• "No, you can't legislate ethics."
• "There needs to maximum transparency and significant penalties. Too many people now believe that all politicians are corrupt and that has to change if we are ever going to restore faith in government."
• "We need to have full-time salaries and tougher disclosure laws on income outside the legislature. Otherwise we will continue to have bought members as we have for over a century."
• "Part of the reason they get in trouble is because it's difficult to make a living and be a legislator"
• "Let's face it, being a Texas legislator is a full-time job. It is hard to make a living and be in the legislature. This leads officials to cut ethical corners. So, we should pay them properly and demand full and complete disclosure. No more loopholes, no more gimmicks."
• "Changed to what? The same problems exist in every legislative body, from Congress to the local city council. It's called "human nature." I'm still trying to figure out how it is that legislators only make $600/month, yet I've rarely seen one leave the Capitol poorer than when he came in..."
• "No. We already have provisions to deter conversion to personal use. And campaign researchers still need them to make these dumb decisions so we have something to use against them when they run for reelection."
• "Pay should be increased, not so much so as to get away from the citizen legislator, but enough to warrant a more stringent reporting of political activities and to ensure separation of business and state interests."
• "Generally yes, but it depends on the proposal. Establishing a penalty of capital punishment would make it less attractive. Not sure that is a good idea."
• "I have always felt that there is too much emphasis on minor reporting mistakes and not enough emphasis on how legislators make their money. I think Title Companies and local consulting contracts are a current area of concern."
• "I think we're between a rock and a hard place on this issue. We're stuck between this 1700's nostalgia about citizen legislators and 2010's reality about what is required to guide this state through a budget shortfall and toward 40 million people. If increased scrutiny discourages potential officeholders, then we didn't need them to start with. "
• "How they can get away with representing a client in front of a state agency is beyond me."
• "I'd like to make the radical suggestion that current laws be enforced."
Our thanks to this week's participants: Sylvia Acevedo, Cathie Adams, Brandon Aghamalian, Victor Alcorta, James Aldrete, Clyde Alexander, George Allen, Matt Angle, Christian Archer, Doc Arnold, Jay Arnold, Jim Arnold, Kip Averitt, Louis Bacarisse, Charles Bailey, Tom Banning, Walt Baum, Eric Bearse, Leland Beatty, Dave Beckwith, Luke Bellsnyder, Tom Blanton, Hugh Brady, Andy Brown, Terri Burke, Lydia Camarillo, Marc Campos, Snapper Carr, Janis Carter, Corbin Casteel, William Chapman, George Cofer, Rick Cofer, Lawrence Collins, John Colyandro, Harold Cook, Hector Deleon, Kate Doner, Scott Dunaway, David Dunn, Jeff Eller, Craig Enoch, Alan Erwin, Ryan Erwin, John Esparza, John Fainter, Jon Fisher, Terry Frakes, Kyle Frazier, Neftali Garcia, Bruce Gibson, Machree Gibson, Scott Gilmore, Daniel Gonzalez, Jim Grace, Thomas Graham, Michael Grimes, Jack Gullahorn, Anthony Haley, Wayne Hamilton, Bill Hammond, Sandy Haverlah, Albert Hawkins, Susan Hays, Jim Henson, Steve Holzheauser, Shanna Igo, Deborah Ingersoll, Richie Jackson, Cal Jillson, Jason Johnson, Karen Johnson, Robert Kepple, Richard Khouri, Tom Kleinworth, Sandy Kress, Tim Lambert, Nick Lampson, Pete Laney, Dick Lavine, James LeBas, Donald Lee, Randy Lee, Luke Legate, Leslie Lemon, Richard Levy, Lance Lively, Susan Longley, Ruben Longoria, Vilma Luna, Matt Mackowiak, Phillip Martin, Bryan Mayes, Richard McBride, J. McCartt, Dan McClung, Scott McCown, Carol McDonald, Mike McKinney, Kurt Meacham, Robert Miller, Lynn Moak, Michael Moore, Bee Moorhead, Steve Murdock, Craig Murphy, Keir Murray, Todd Olsen, Gardner Pate, Bill Pewitt, Jerry Philips, Tom Phillips, Royce Poinsett, Kraege Polan, Jay Propes, Ted Melina Raab, Bill Ratliff, Karen Reagan, Tim Reeves, Chuck Rice, Carl Richie, Kim Ross, Luis Saenz, Mark Sanders, Jim Sartwelle, Stan Schlueter, Steve Scurlock, Jennifer Shelley-Rodriguez, Christopher Shields, Kevin Shuvalov, Carol Sims, Ed Small, Martha Smiley, Terral Smith, Todd Smith, Tom Smith, Larry Soward, Jason Stanford, Keith Strama, Bob Strauser, Colin Strother, Frank Sturzl, Russ Tidwell, Trey Trainor, Lisa Turner, John Weaver, Ken Whalen, Darren Whitehurst, Chad Wilbanks, Christopher Williston, Michael Wilt, Alex Winslow, Lee Woods, Eric Wright, Peck Young, Angelo Zottarelli.