The public’s trust in politics is at an all time low, as various public opinion polls show. Or is it politicians that people mistrust? How to address these issues and restore the public’s trust in their elected officials? These questions were the focus of the 2012 Leadership Forum, organized by the State Legislative Leaders Foundation and Brown University in Providence on May 10-12.
The conference brought together around 50 legislative leaders from both political parties across the country, an equal number of private sector representatives and civil society members working on government ethics and accountability. Stephen Lakis, President of the State Legislative Leaders Foundation, Teresa Paiva Weed, President of the Rhode Island Senate, Gordon Fox, Speaker of the Rhode Island House, and Angel Taveras, Mayor of Providence opened the conference.
The State Legislative Leaders Foundation invited Global Integrity and the Center for Public Integrity (CPI) to present the recently released findings of State Integrity Investigation (SII), an evaluation of effectiveness of anti-corruption mechanisms in all US states conducted by Global Integrity, CPI and Public Radio International.
The invitation was also recognition for Global Integrity and the Center’s efforts to engage reform-minded partners in state government and civil society to push for evidence-based reforms based on the SII. After the publication of the SII findings, Global Integrity and other partner organizations have been reaching out to state-level public officials, connecting decision-makers, institutions and civil society from different states so they can exchange knowledge and collaborate around SII findings.
In the Forum, Global Integrity and CPI discussed the methodology and how to use the 16,500 data entry points for state-level reforms. Demos was also invited to address the current ethics situation in the country. The presentations were followed by an intensive exchange of thoughts and ideas – some state legislators were supportive of the findings while others disputed them.
Because SII’s obvious primary finding is that there are basically no “winners” and that all states need to push harder for reforms in a number of anti-corruption areas, it was logical to expect that not all state representatives would be satisfied with the findings. However, SII’s goal was not to provide a prescription of reforms that need to be done. Rather, we hoped SII would start a long-needed dialogue between public officials, civil society and the public around a variety of areas in need of reform.
We are happy to say that we are finding an open ear among many legislators – and politicians in general – at this conference and in the many contacts we’ve had at various levels of government (see list of states where the State Integrity Investigation has sparked or accelerated reforms). We continue to be impressed by the level of enthusiasm and are pleased to hear most agree reforms are needed to ensure better public services.
But pursuing legislative reforms is not easy, especially in times when politics seems a dishonorable discipline and politicians are under heavy scrutiny. That is why Global Integrity is excited to fill a facilitator role.
We recognize that, above its invaluable role as a vigilant watchdog over government transparency, accountability and integrity, civil society can also actively contribute to finding solutions for the many issues state-level governments face.
The Leadership Forum was a step in that direction and, in that sense, it turns out we love politics…