Readers balk at Pearce staffer’s defense of ethics vote

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A staffer for U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce asserted last week that House Republicans weren’t trying to gut the independent agency that polices House ethics. Many NMPolitics.net readers balked at his claim.

Steve Pearce

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.

In case you missed it, U.S. House Republicans voted in secret last week to move the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) under a committee of lawmakers, bar the agency from investigating anonymous tips, and keep some of its work secret. Criticism was widespread and harsh. The New York Times said the changes would “effectively kill” OCE by taking away its “power and independence.”

Republicans later scrapped the proposed changes. OCE retains independence and power, for now.

But the chief of staff for Pearce, R-N.M., took issue with the criticism.

“The amendment was not a ‘gut,’” Todd Willens told NMPolitics.net. “Steve is in favor of changes that strengthen the ethics of the House and allow the committees to operate according to their stated missions. This amendment struck that balance.”

If discussions NMPolitics.net facilitated on Facebook are any indication, many folks aren’t impressed with Pearce’s position or his staffer’s defense of it. And they’re not happy about the unscheduled, secret vote to restructure an independent watchdog.

“Secret vote is exposed for what it is: gutting ethics,” wrote John A. Burt of Mesilla Park.

The vote, on the first day of the new session of Congress, “shows a complete lack of understanding of the general population’s frustrations with D.C. and congressional ineptness and incompetence,” wrote Lloyd Colson of Belen.

“Yeah, now they’re trying to backpedal! What’s new Stevie?” wrote Pam McKay of Albuquerque.

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Former state Sen. Dede Feldman of Albuquerque said Willens’ assertion “is absurd if you look at the details” of the House Republicans’ proposal. “The agency would no longer be independent, transparent, or have the power to punish or refer to those that could,” Feldman wrote.

If the proposed rule change was “well thought out and well intentioned,” information about the impact would have been fully disclosed to the public before the vote, wrote David Bangs of Santa Fe.

And Jody Crowley of Las Cruces wrote that it was possible to strengthen the House Ethics Committee, if Republicans wanted to do that, “without gutting the independent ethics commission.”

“It’s important to watch what politicians do, not what they say,” Crowley wrote.

Several people participating in the discussions wrote “B.S.” in response to Willens’ assertion.

Of the dozens of comments, only a handful defended Pearce. One was from Mike Johnson of Santa Fe, who liked the House Republicans’ proposal. He called it “simple changes that more better conform with American jurisprudence practice, like being able to face your accusers, not having leaked confidential information splashed in the public domain before a thorough investigation and review.” He added that such changes “would be improvements to protect the [representatives’] rights — all of them, not just GOP.”

Still, Johnson wrote, “I do agree strongly that these minor tweaks were not the thing to start off with on the first day of the session. Too many other more important things to do, like removing all of the #ImperialObamaEdicts, and so many other things to get America’s government back to regular order without government by executive fiat and personal opinion.”

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