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7 things the Speaker did to restore order in the House

   

Todd Richardson came to the Speakership a year earlier than expected, in a fog of ethics complaints and white hot fury from the editorial boards criticizing the “capitol culture.” His reforms got off to a rocky start with a committee to draft new intern policies taking months to come up with recommendations. However, heading into session he took control of the issue, ending session with the ethical high ground over the Senate, and a standing ovation from the entire House.

Here are seven things the Speaker did to restore order in the House:

7. He pressed the intern committee to release its recommendations

At the end of May 2015, Richardson tasked a committee to come up with changes to the way the House oversees interns. By early fall, that committee was coming under fire from critics for taking so long to produce those recommendations. The Speaker began to be the person quoted in articles and by early November the committee had acted. They passed a series of changes to make it easier to report harassment and instituted training for both lawmakers and interns. As of now, the new policy seems to be working. 

6. Reps. Barnes & Engler

He immediately involved two of the most intelligent, respected and independent minded legislators in the process. Rep. Kevin Engler has been in the General Assembly over a decade and brought a level-headed approach to the committee. Rep. Jay Barnes is an attorney who has been known to be a challenge for other speakers to work with. However, he has a close relationship with Richardson and brought a legal perspective to the workplace issues being discussed and, due to his involvement, kept his suggestions inside the process to make it better instead of bringing it down. 

5. Single-issue ethics bills, passed quickly

He came out of the gate quick with a series of single-issue ethics bills, and passed them in the first few legislative days of session, Many credit Barnes for the strategy to try and avoid the failures of the past, when ethics legislation broke down by having too many provisions in each. By passing the single-issue bills quickly, he also avoided a protracted negotiation with the Senate where he could have been forced to share the blame for failure with a chamber that had many skeptical members. Steve Tilley attempted the last meaningful ethics reform, but leaders of a rival camp in the House made the bill too big to pass. While there were many House members angry with the bills this year, most all of them begrudgingly voted for the bills and, by the end of session, realized Richardson had protected them from harsh scrutiny and any blame for their failure lied on the other side of the Capitol. 

4. He made contributions limits a non-starter

While most Republicans were willing to go along with the ethics package he produced, the one thing most wouldn’t entertain was limiting how citizens could spend their own money. If he had taken that on, it would have likely earned him love from editorial boards, but been enough to see other legislators oppose the entire package. Contribution limits are the third rail for most Republicans and break down on partisan lines. 

3. David Poger

In the first test of how the new harassment policies would be administered, the legislature moved swiftly to obtain a restraining order against David Poger, a former Democratic operative. The sign that the new policies were working was that members of both parties were supportive of the move. Perhaps more important was that it was interns for minority member complaining, and they were kept informed of all of the actions. 

2. Rep. Gosen’s resignation

It was bound to happen that a member’s actions would be questioned. Rep. Don Gosen’s behavior in question was not about any intern or staff, but what he described as an inappropriate relationship was close enough to his public life that he resigned. While Richardson gave him some time to make the choice on his own, by day two, the Speaker stepped in and they came to an agreement that Gosen would resign. During that tumultuous week, he also capitalized on the turmoil to help pass paycheck protection with a veto proof majority – a feat he would duplicate late in session, overriding the governor’s veto. 

1. He didn’t cave on a gift ban

One of the least impactful reforms, but best for public relations, comes from legislators receiving tickets, dinners, hotel rooms, etc. The House passed a ban on gifts, much to the disdain of several members in his caucus, and it was met with a broad rejection of several senators who weren’t in leadership. In the final weeks of session he could have compromised on a watered-down gift ban, but instead committed to make it one of the first bills out of the House next session, keeping the high ground on ethics throughout the interim.