My View: Time to hold elected leaders to ethical standards

The author says that across the country, people are losing faith in the political system and in their elected officials.

It is time for the voters to demand better behavior from our public servants. If they disagree, do it with a focus on the issues. If they have choices to make in carrying out policy, do so for the benefit of the public first and foremost. Regardless of policy outcomes, we simply demand that those who work for the people act in an ethical manner as they carry out their roles.

Across the country, people are losing faith in the political system and in their elected officials. Much of this is grounded in fears that those in public office might govern against the people’s interests, or, even worse, govern to enrich themselves at public expense. A big part of these concerns is simply the increased partisanship that is now embedded deeply in the American political system. When one side wins, the other, in this view, necessarily loses. We see these fears in the current presidential election, and more and more we see it in Oregon’s state government and in local jurisdictions across the state.

A January 2020 poll taken by DHM research found that Oregonians consider it important that those in political office act honestly and ethically (98%), work well under pressure (87%), be able to compromise (83%), and maintain a tone of civility and respect in politics (71%). When asked if these officials should be willing to take risks or be persuasive, only about 40% valued these traits. Given a choice between Oregon office holders who are more willing to compromise or more willing to stick to their beliefs, 41% valued compromise and 15% valued adhering to beliefs.

A statewide group of interested Oregonians met for over a year, convened by the non-partisan organization Common Cause, to explore the issues of ethical behavior in public life. Composed of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated Oregon voters, the group of former public servants (legislators, a jurist, state officials) and others — activists, private industry leaders, a political analyst — studied, proposed, argued over, and finally created an ethics pledge for political candidates

The candidates pledge calls for respect, candor, fairness, relevance of campaign information and candidate responsibility. The pledge was presented to all the candidates for Oregon Secretary of State, as well as all candidates for federal office. Four of the five major-party Secretary of State candidates signed the pledge, including the winner of the Democratic nomination, Shemia Fagan. Forty-one percent of the candidates for federal office signed the pledge, including primary winners Christopher Christensen, a Republican running in the 1st Congressional District, and incumbent Kurt Schrader, the Democratic incumbent in Congressional District 5.

We invite you, as voters, to hold your candidates to the high ethical standards Oregonians expect. Check to see if your candidate has signed the pledge at Look for an explanation if it is not signed (some of them are quite well thought out — these are ethical candidates who have quibbles with one part of the pledge). As the presidential campaign seems to devolve into more and more chaos, shine an Oregon light on the behaviors of those who would represent us in the halls of Congress, in Salem, in our own communities, and even the White House.

Jim Moore teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

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