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Opening Arguments

Family values

How about a little bipartisan unethical-politician bashing? First up, Harry Reid. The man has been a public servant all his life. So how did he get so rich?

Some who have watched Reid closely over the years, however, say that his political and economic ascendance has made him increasingly willing to use his power (and apparent electoral resilience) in ways that appear unsavory or nepotistic. The jewelry purchases are only the latest example.

David Damore -- a University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor whose research focuses on Silver State politics -- has closely followed Reid for years. He said that the balance between helping family and constituents is a common tension for powerful politicians. “I’m going to put this politely: Their personal interests, they seem to see, represent the common good. They don’t differentiate those two.”

Another longtime Reid-watcher believes that the latest string of incidents, stretching over the last decade, is just a result of more coverage of Reid -- and not a product of him changing his style.

“As he’s become more known and a much higher dollar target for his critics, anything he does to assist his family now pegs on the radar,” said John L. Smith, a columnist who has written about Nevada politics for nearly as long as Reid has been in Washington.  “I don’t think he’s changed his personal method of operation throughout his whole career.”

Smith added, “I can’t see him ever denying his family a break or an opportunity if he could provide it. I guess that’s just part of being a dad and a guy with a certain level of influence.”

And here in Indiana, we have Rep. Eric Turner who The Associated Press reports has earned more than $8 million on nursing home construction and would have lost $4 million during a construction moratorium that died after he lobbied strongly against it in private caucus meetings.

House Ethics Chairman Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, said lawmakers may look at whether rules should be applied to caucus discussions during a more comprehensives ethics review later this summer, but not now. Turner admitted in filings with the committee to speaking out in caucus, but the panel also noted that he recused himself from public votes on the issue.

“We found no House ethics rules which apply to caucus,” Steuerwald said.

[. . .]

Turner appears to have met all the House’s financial disclosure requirements. But none of those rules required him to tell the public that he makes upward of $1 million each time Mainstreet Property Group completes another project.

Documents obtained by the AP show that Turner owns a 38 percent stake in Mainstreet Property Group through another company. Mainstreet, which is operated by his son, builds nursing homes throughout the state and then sells the homes to a Canadian company, HealthLease, which was founded by Turner’s son.

So you do for family -- who can be against that? And if, gosh, what's in the public interest just happens to be very good for your private interest, hey, what's the harm? You don't think people would actually fudge on what's in the public interest just because it might line their pockets, do you? You cynic, you.

The Reid case seems the more corrupt, I guess. Because he's a full-time politician, the millions he's made can't have come from a real job but just from government funds or private money he's strongarmed or sleazilty finagled away from people. And there's probably not much we can do about it. The Senate is such a Good Old Boys Club that once you become one of the power brokers you can pretty much get away with anything.

But the Turner case seems worse to me because I don't want my statehouse to be as corrupt as Washington. It's painfully obvious that Turner has a conflict of interest he either can't see or won't admit. If the House rules can't punish something so blatant -- caucus not covered by ethics rules?! -- then change the damn rules. Because we have a part-teim legislature and our lawmakers have to have real jobs, too, our Legislature is going to filled with conflicts of interest and potential conflicts.

They can clean this up if they want to, and I'd like to see some candidates made a big deal about it. Or am I being naive to think people will ever stop taking advantage of their power and influence, or that we can check them when they don't want to behave?