Friday, April 07, 2006

Brian Schweitzer forges ahead for 'cleaner' government

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is no 'Brian-come-lately' in his efforts to create a system of checks and balances that aids in Montana legislators and officials representing the people of the state and not just corporate interests.

Schweitzer was unable to get the legislature to act on his proposal last session so he's taking it to the people. Here's more:
Governor launches lobbyist initiative

Gazette State Bureau
April 7, 2006

HELENA -- Gov. Brian Schweitzer on Thursday became the first person to sign his proposed ballot measure to require departing elected officials to wait two years before becoming lobbyists.

Schweitzer signed Initiative 153 in the Capitol rotunda before the bust of one of his heroes, former Gov. Joseph Dixon, who served from 1921 to 1924. Dixon told Montanans he would represent their interests, not those of the Anaconda Copper Mining Co., Schweitzer said.

"I-153 will make sure that you have a clean government," Schweitzer said at a press conference. "Finally, the people across Montana can be assured when they elect somebody, they will be working for the folks back home, not the lobbyists who prowl the halls of the state Capitol."

To qualify for the November ballot, backers need the signatures of 22,308 voters, including 5 percent of the voters in 34 of the 100 state House districts.

I-153 would impose a two-year "cooling-off" period on state elected officials, including legislators, top appointed officials such as department directors and members of elected officials' personal staffs before they could become lobbyists. It's aimed at closing, at least for two years, the "revolving door" in which these officials immediately become lobbyists after leaving public office.

Schweitzer said the initiative would make sure that top state officials are representing only Montanans, "not making some kind of a sweetheart deal for the job they're going to get as a lobbyist the day after they're a lawmaker."

The 2005 Legislature killed Schweitzer's proposal that included a cooling-off idea, so he decided to take it directly to voters. He said he expects a groundswell of Montanans to help gather the signatures to put I-153 on the ballot.

If voters demonstrate they want clean government by approving I-153, Schweitzer said he will present the 2007 Legislature with a package of bills to further toughen ethics and lobbying laws.

Joining Schweitzer in signing the initiative was George Harper, a retired Methodist minister, a delegate to Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention and father of Hal Harper, Schweitzer's chief policy adviser.

"We've never had term limits on lobbyists before, and this is at the right end of it," Harper said, referring to the "cooling-off" period.

Schweitzer said his "cooling-off" proposal would be among the toughest among the states, matching laws in South Dakota and Iowa.

Montana Common Cause, a nonprofit that aims to hold elected officials accountable, endorsed the initiative.
To read the rest, go here.


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