There is a group called State Integrity Investigation, that analyzes a state’s transparency, accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms and rates the state for corruption. According to them, the worst, most corrupt states in the Union are Georgia, Michigan, Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia and Wyoming. The best states, all earning Bs, are California, Connecticut, Nebraska, New Jersey and Washington. Apparently, a state can be corruption-free and anti-freedom if Nebraska is on this list.
So, after reading the news story about the survey, I went to SII’s website to find out what they thought of my home state, Vermont. It was a shock. They rated Vermont the 25th most corrupt state in America. Digging deeper, I discovered that we earned this rating because we do not have independent corruption police, any kind of extra-governmental agency charged with finding and rooting out corruption in our state.
No, we have the ballot box. We don’t need an outside agency. We impose term limits the old fashioned way – we kick them out.
We got an F for legislative accountability. Each member of our House of Representatives has only 4,175 constituents (3,300 adults) and lives among them. Each State Senator represents 20,880 Vermonters (16,450 adults). (We got high marks for our legislative districting, by the way.) But SII doesn’t understand what those numbers mean. Our former Senator, Jim Jeffords, would go to breakfast at a small, local restaurant on Saturday morning when he was home. Everyone was welcome to sit with him and talk, and everyone did. I was at dinner one night when one of our state senators walked in. Half the restaurant greeted him by name and a few voiced opinions of upcoming legislation. It’s an occupational hazard in Vermont. If one represents the people, the people expect to be heard.
Our local newspapers and our local television stations extensively cover our legislature. Our older television station, WCAX, does weekly and daily interview shows in addition to their normal coverage. We not only know our own legislators, we pretty much know everyone else’s. Right now, the minority leader is in deep shit with both parties and most of our citizenry for trying a state version of a Republican filibuster. We are not tolerant of disruption of process for partisan posturing. This is not the place to sabotage a bill by adding an unrelated amendment to it.
During the 2010 campaign, one of the gubernatorial candidates was stopped on the Interstate for speeding. The dash-cam video hit the evening news the next day. He paid the fine, and we elected him governor. We even elected the State Auditor candidate who was stopped for drunk driving. He paid his fine and did the rehab. That was what mattered. If either of them had whined about his treatment by the police or did the “do you know who I am” routine during the police stop or claimed to be a victim of political persecution, we would not have elected them.
Size matters, especially in governance. The fewer people a legislator represents, the closer he or she will be to those people. We don’t need an outside agency to uncover corruption in our government. We have something better. Howard Dean once observed that in Vermont, everyone knows everybody’s else’s business, so it is impossible to be corrupt. Officials have tried. We’ve had a few too many incidents of embezzlement in local governments and a few incidents where agencies didn’t do what they were supposed to do in a proper manner. Those who think they can work the system are always found out and dealt with eventually, simply because Governor Dean was right. We all know what everyone else is doing.
Very little in the world is purely black-and-white. The State Integrity Investigation system uses a limited set of criteria to judge a state. They need to look at the entirety of a state before deciding who is corruptible and who isn’t.