Saturday, October 10, 1998

Sen. Marshall Ige’s
conflict of interest

IT takes nerve for the subject of a criminal investigation to request information about the investigators. When the subject is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Housing, the demand is an outrage.

Sen. Marshall Ige is under investigation for alleged campaign spending violations stemming from the attorney general's probe of the Bishop Estate. He is accused of allowing the Bishop Estate to pay off $18,000 in campaign debts through an illegal campaign contribution scheme.

Ige has asked Attorney General Margery Bronster to provide information about her office's contract with the private firm, Goodenow Associates, which she hired to conduct the probe. Ige claims that it is his duty to review the contracts and determine how much the attorney general is spending on the investigation.

Such diligence would be laudable if it were directed at questionable state contracts. But when it is focused on an investigation of the committee chairman it is obviously improper because it could be construed as an attempt to intimidate or harass the investigators.

But moral obtuseness is not confined to Ige. It is shared by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, who wrote a letter asking Bronster to accommodate Ige's request. Mizuguchi noted that such contracts are "within the purview" of Ige's committee. Apparently the Senate president is equally oblivious to the blatant conflict of interest.

Two of the principal subjects of the attorney general's investigation of the Bishop Estate trustees, Richard Wong and Henry Peters, are the former Senate president and House speaker, respectively, former pillars of the Democratic political establishment. But their insensitivity to meeting their responsibilities is obviously not unique among Democratic politicians. Others still in the Legislature also have no concept of appropriate conduct.

Bishop Estate Archive

An English Parliament

UNTIL now there has been one Parliament for all of Britain. But a separate Parliament for England is a possibility, joining already approved assemblies for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. At the Conservative Party's annual conference, party leader William Hague said it may be time for England to have its own Parliament.

Hague's suggestion was unexpected because the party had opposed new legislatures for Scotland and Wales. After ousting the Conservatives a year ago, the Labor Party moved quickly to establish the Scottish and Welsh legislatures and promoted a peace agreement that gave Northern Ireland a new assembly.

All of those legislatures will be limited to dealing with domestic matters. Defense and foreign relations will be controlled by the Parliament in London. However, the arrangement will permit Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish lawmakers to continue to vote on purely domestic matters involving England. Thus the proposal of a separate legislature for England.

There is, not surprisingly, a political side to this issue. The Conservative electoral stronghold is England. As long as the Parliament in London is drawn from the whole United Kingdom, it will be hard for the Conservatives to regain power. They won no seats in Scotland or Wales in 1997 and made no serious effort to win seats in Northern Ireland.

"We are not going to be English nationalists, but we are going to see that the voters of England are fairly represented," Hague said. Not only that -- it would be good for the Conservatives. If the other parts of Britain have their own legislatures, why shouldn't England, by far the largest, have its own, too?


Religious persecution

THE United States has long had sanctions in place against governments that violate their citizens' civil rights. Soon it may add religious rights. A bill passed 98-0 by the Senate would authorize action against countries that engage in a pattern of religious persecution. A similar bill has been passed by the House.

The measure would create an office responsible for monitoring treatment in countries where the State Department has documented acts of religious persecution. The office would be headed by an "ambassador-at-large for religious liberty." Sanctions could range from diplomatic protests to cutting off funds from international financial institutions.

Decisions on sanctions would be left largely to the president. The original measure would have given Congress and an independent commission a greater role in such decisions, but the sponsors were forced to compromise to obtain the White House's support. As approved, the president could waive the sanctions in the national interest.

This is wise, because the conduct of foreign affairs should be left to the president. If decisions on imposing sanctions are taken out of his hands, it could have serious effects on U.S. interests.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., noted, "We have seen Catholic clerics mistreated and tortured in China, we have seen Christians sold into slavery in the Sudan, we have seen the risk of the death penalty in Egypt and Saudi Arabia for those of the Islamic faith who seek to convert to Christianity."

This country, with its proud tradition of religious freedom, cannot be indifferent to religious persecution elsewhere. This measure makes it clear that the United States abhors persecution wherever it occurs and will do what it can to fight it.

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