​Virginia ethics commission holds inaugural meeting

Panel to meet in Charlottesville next month

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Virginia’s Commission to Ensure Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government met for the first time Monday to discuss ethical concerns for the state and possible steps to remedy them.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe created the Commission to mitigate concerns about ethics in light of recent political scandals, including a corruption conviction against former Gov. Bob McDonnell and allegations of political favors in the Virginia legislature. The 10-person Commission, headed by former Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Radford, and former Virginia Lieutenant Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, will meet on a monthly basis to develop solutions.

Christina Nuckols, Communications Advisor for the governor’s office, said the Commission will focus on five specific areas of concern as it executes its duties: gifts, conflicts of interest, disclosure, oversight and enforcement, and public service restrictions.

Commission members, Nuckols said, hope to reach a universal agreement on these issues to put forward the best resolution possible.

“This is a consensus building exercise,” she said. “There is broad agreement about the direction [the Commission wants to go]. There may be some discussion about the details of that.”

Nuckols said this is not the first time the state government has looked into ethical concerns.

“All of these issues have been discussed at different times,” Nuckols said. “Some small changes were made in the laws by the General Assembly this year.”

Members also brought up redistricting as a concern moving forward, Nuckols said. Virginia's third Congressional district was recently ruled unconstitutional.

“There was a kickoff discussion on redistricting,” Nuckols said. “They likely are to return to that issue. Their discussion yesterday was that they would like to focus on that more.”

James Todd, a politics lecturer in the Batten School, said redistricting might allow for more competitive political races.

“The overwhelming majorit[y] of U.S. districts are safe for one party or another,” Todd said. “There are very few competitive races. Almost everyone running for the house gets reelected. If you redistrict and get it to be bipartisan, you’ll increase competitive races. This gives us turnover.”

Todd said this could alleviate gridlock in Congress.

“You have more people that work for the common good,” he said. “It would increase the number of candidates running for the middle, because otherwise they can be as extreme as they want. If they know they’re going to be re-elected anyhow, they just pander to their base.”

An ethics reform package passed the Virginia legislature earlier this year, but was vetoed by McAuliffe for not being stringent enough. The Commission will next meet in Charlottesville Nov. 6.

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