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EDITORIAL

The good and bad side of choosing a government aide

Monday, December 3, 2012 - 8:33 am

Bosma's move was questionable, and Pence's was brilliant.

Elected officials can make good hiring decisions when they’re seeking aides to help them in office, and they can make questionable ones. Republican Gov.-elect Mike Pence and GOP House Speaker Brian Bosma have provided us with examples of each this week.

Bosma gets the nod for the questionable hire. His choice of five-year lobbyist Matt Whetstone to be the new parliamentarian for the Indiana House of Representatives has aroused the ire of Common Cause, which points out the obvious potential for conflicts of interest. The case does illustrate the revolving door between state government and the lobbying world – the phrase “fox in the henhouse” comes to mind.

Pence made the good hiring decision – a brilliant one, in fact – in choosing retired House member Jeff Espich to guide the governor’s agenda through the Statehouse.

It’s hard to imagine a better choice, in fact. Espich served in the General Assembly for four decades and ended as chair of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, so he knows the legislative rules and procedures as well as anyone. He also knows all the players, and he has won the respect of many legislators on both sides of the aisle. His knowledge of tax and fiscal issues is prodigious.

Of course, we don’t know what the governor’s agenda will be yet. But the point is that he can now concentrate on developing that agenda without worrying over the intricacies of getting it through the General Assembly. Espich will take care of that.

It might be instructive to consider one issue that we do know is on the governor’s agenda: the proposal to cut the state’s personal income tax by 10 percent. The idea has gotten some strong opposition, including skepticism by some of the state’s top elected Republican officials. Espich once was one of those skeptics, but now he says he’s reviewed the numbers and thinks the idea is feasible. If anyone can bring the other skeptics around, it’s Espich.

Both the Espich and Whetstone appointments have been questioned because of the new rule that legislators have to have a one-year cooling-off period before taking a lobbying position. Neither case exactly fits that description, but the circumstances in the Whetstone case seem more applicable because it involves the mingling of public and private endeavors. Espich is merely taking his government skills from one branch to another.