For Schweikert, honesty is best policy - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

For Schweikert, honesty is best policy

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Posted: Saturday, October 4, 2008 5:48 pm | Updated: 9:12 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

David Schweikert, the former Maricopa County treasurer, gained a lifelong appreciation for clean government during one of Arizona's dirtiest eras of political corruption.

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As a 28-year-old Republican who had just been elected to the state Legislature in 1990, he watched as the AzScam political scandal spilled across the state Capitol.

"Let's face it - all hell broke loose," said Schweikert, now 46 and running for Congress. "I was a brand-new freshman, and they were indicting people all around me. I realized ego and greed are very dangerous things."

Schweikert is attempting to unseat incumbent Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., in the 5th Congressional District, which takes in Scottsdale, Tempe, Fountain Hills, Ahwatukee Foothills and west Mesa.

Back in 1991, a grand jury charged seven legislators, five lobbyists and five others with felonies ranging from bribery to money laundering to filing false campaign statements.

The charges came after a sting operation by the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. An undercover informant who posed as a Las Vegas big shot threw around money and promises of sex in exchange for votes to support casino gambling.

As some of his colleagues left the Capitol in handcuffs, Schweikert embarked on an effort to establish rules of ethics to restore the public's trust in its lawmakers.

"We had to end the environment where you're in session, you're supposed to be a part-time legislator, and you're raising money while you're getting ready to go vote on someone's bill the next day," he said. "We brought that to an end. That was one of the things I was very proud of."

He also helped guide an effort to clean up rules that allowed lawmakers to alter proposed legislation at the last moment before passage. Before the change, a bill could - and often did - advance through various stages of public discussion, only to be modified with strike-everything amendments that completely changed what the measure did.

The new provision stipulated that if a bill was changed at the last minute, it was sent back through the process with its new provisions apparent for all to see.

Schweikert, a Fountain Hills resident, said he's running in large part to bring his sense of clean government to the national stage. Congress is in dire need of rehabilitation, he said.

"When you hear of Congress having 9 to 12 percent favorables - this isn't just a Republican or Democratic thing - I think there's a pox-on-all-their-houses attitude out there right now," Schweikert said.

A Gallup poll taken in July indicated that Congress' approval ratings had dwindled to their lowest point in three decades.

The national survey found that 14 percent of Americans approved of the job Congress was doing, which was slightly higher than the figure suggested by Schweikert, but still the lowest since Gallup first started asking the question in 1974.

Schweikert, who lost to J.D. Hayworth in the 1994 Republican primary for Congress, feels he can make a difference.

He intends to bring a "culture of fiscal responsibility" and limit the growth of government. He pledged never to support legislation that will burden future generations with debt.

Concerning immigration, Schweikert wants to finish building the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and use high-tech monitoring systems to stop illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Furthermore, he wants more U.S. Border Patrol agents and the use of National Guard troops when necessary.

He favors sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, along with development of a temporary worker program for foreign nationals already living in the United States and those seeking to work here.

"Underline the word temporary," Schweikert said.

Meanwhile, the war on terror will help determine the future course for both the United States and the world, he said. The United States must remain completely committed, which will require devoting resources to the military, intelligence agencies, and state and local police forces.

That agenda, though, will have to come alongside Schweikert's intentions to bring new ethical standards to Capitol Hill.

"I know that I'll be a freshman in the minority, but you can do things through your caucus. If you can change the caucus rules, you can start the process," he said.

Schweikert pointed to a similar movement he led in the state Legislature during the post-AzScam era.

"We got the freshmen together. We said, 'Hey, we want new rules,' and all of a sudden we had enough votes to force it. If you have the votes, you'll be amazed as to how leadership plays with you," he said.

The first part of Schweikert's reform agenda would be to end earmarks, which are funds provided for specific projects or programs selected by members of Congress, rather than by normal merit-based or competitive processes.

Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain and Republican Rep. Jeff Flake, both of Arizona, have drawn national attention to ending earmarks, but more attention is needed, Schweikert said.

"Not reforming them, not adjusting them, not disclosing them. They've got to come to an end, because it's a type of corruption," he said.

The other parts of his reform agenda would be to enact measures to ensure Congress adheres to its single-subject rules.

Currently, bills are supposed to be germane to particular subjects, but the rules are often flouted, which allows funding for teapot museums to be attached to legislation funding military troops, Schweikert said. As a result, add-ons hang from legislation like ornaments on a Christmas tree.

Eliminating add-ons sounds technical, but it would represent a revolution in the federal legislative process because every bill would have to be considered on its true merit, Schweikert said.

He also envisions a zero-tolerance gift rule for members of Congress, which he said is a standard by which he already operates.

Schweikert said he won't accept a cup of coffee from his best friend and former state legislator Greg Patterson, who's now a registered lobbyist for Arizona Competitive Power Alliance.

When Schweikert got married, he was county treasurer, so he and his bride, Joyce, wouldn't accept wedding gifts from anyone. It was just easier that way, he said, because at the time he was managing billions of dollars in public funds, and he had the authority to abate certain delinquent interests and other fees.

"How would you like to have some guy give you a nice wedding gift and then a few months later knock on your door and say, 'Hey, we have this project over here. Something's screwed up. I need your help,' " Schweikert said.

While he served as a legislator and as treasurer, he even went so far as to print his own business cards, stationery and thank-you notes, rather than use standard-issue cards, stationery and notes printed at state or county expense. That way, he was free to distribute material to political associates with the knowledge that taxpayers didn't incur the costs.

The same is true of his cell phone.

Schweikert doesn't expect every member of Congress to pay for their own business cards, but their cozy relationships with lobbyists have to end, he said.

Schweikert adheres to the general GOP principles of low taxes and disciplined spending, but his political foundation really is rooted in AzScam.

"I got a kick in the side of the head that basically helped me understand the level of responsibility I had," he said. "A lot of it, the voters will never know. It annoys the lobbyists that I won't let them buy me anything, but what a great thing to be able to go home at night and say, 'I did the right thing.' "

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