By editorial board • 

Elected officials on thin ice in new political age

Both federal and state government leaders kicked off the new year with reasons for the electorate’s confidence to be shaky. 

In a highly publicized and somewhat comical debacle, the U.S. House Republicans reversed its plans to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics, which they made one of their first orders of business. Hoping to switch the power of ethical oversight of Congress to themselves, the Republicans voted in a secret session to prevent the quasi-independent office — created in 2008 following a series of scandals involving House leaders — from investigating potential criminal charges. 

The decision was reversed following a storm of phone calls from angry constituents, along with a disapproving Tweet from president-elect Donald Trump. (You know you have problems when a man with questionable ethical judgment who some claim as a compulsive liar gives you the stink eye for your choices.)

Oregonians can take some pride that its own Greg Walden voted against the measure, and expressed his disapproval of it before voting. This, at least, according to Walden’s office. However, the representative’s chief of staff would not elaborate on how Walden’s dissenting voice was heard.

The executive branch of the Beaver state had a rocky New Year itself. It was announced that newly elected Gov. Kate Brown will need a new chief of staff on Jan. 31. Kristen Leonard, currently in the position, announced her pending resignation Tuesday. This news follows a report by Willamette Week that Leornard’s husband, Kevin Neely, had financial and business ties to Brown’s re-election campaign and a $214,000 state contract up for renewal this year. 

Brown’s administration is under a microscope since she took the governorship after her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned amid scandal.

The conflict of interest in Brown’s office was less alarming than the appointments made by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who campaigned heavily on his upright morals and led everyone to believe (including us) his reign as secretary of state would be scandal-free. 
His leadership team is already raising questions, however.

Richardson named Leslie Cummings deputy secretary of state. While Cummings managed tech-security for the Oregon Employment Department, more than $30 million was wasted on projects, according to an investigation by The Oregonian. 

Appointed as Richardson’s election director is Steve Trout, who held the position from 2009 to 2013 under then-Secretary of State Brown. Trout left when Brown was criticized for providing short notice to candidates on an election date change. 

In a twist on public relations, Richardson used the past incidents as reason to make the two hires. 

“These prior experiences are exactly why I hired them,” he told The Oregonian. “They understand the dysfunction, whitewashing and the toxic partisan culture of Salem -— and will help me change that so we can move Oregon forward.”

The demand for transparency and a new political culture is as heightened as ever. These incidents may be much ado about nothing in a couple weeks, but they warrant the instant public critique that occurred. Constituents should not back down from actions made by elected officials when they perceive the return to the politics-as-usual they are fed up with.

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