When governor-elect John Kasich announced two cabinet appointments at a December news conference, he made some off-the-cuff comments that I found very interesting. After reporters quizzed Kasich about potential conflicts of interest these appointees might face, he scolded the statehouse press for asking questions, which, he said, discourage good people from serving in the government.
Mr. Kasich went on to say, ''We have so many stupid rules and regulations that prevent us from getting the best people to come in here. ...''
My political views are usually not in line with Mr. Kasich. Unlike him, I don't blame the press and what he calls ''all this transparency.'' However, I do think he is absolutely right on one count. There are too many rules and regulations that inhibit the best and the brightest from being willing to serve in both elected and appointed public offices.
After the Watergate scandal in 1974, we piled on law after law, regulation after regulation, and ruling after ruling - all designed to prevent public officials from abusing their offices. Unfortunately, by putting a regulatory collar on the system, we've made it extremely difficult to attract people of substance to government, particularly at the state level.
Let me explain.
Since time immemorial, we have seen self-serving actions on the part of kings, princes, potentates, governors and legislators. Face it, there will always be corruption - it is a part of political and human history. Of course, I am not suggesting that this is right. And I do believe we should try to prevent it. In fact, one of the real beauties of the American form of government is the Bill of Rights, which at its heart strikes at the uneven application of governmental power.
Unfortunately, I really don't think one can legislate morality or ethics. But that is precisely what we continue to try to do in a very uneven, ham-handed way with all our so-called ethics reforms. We have set up ethics commissions and ethic committees and put inspectors general in charge of enforcing rules. We have split hairs like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Biblical times. Ethics is hard to define, especially for our leaders.
We have tried - and largely succeeded - in stopping the revolving door between government, business, the academy and the professions in the name of avoiding conflicts of interest. The unintended consequence has been to create a core of professional political officeholders and seekers. Frankly, if our ''ethics'' rules are applied literally, the only people who could hold public office would be those who know nothing about the business of the office, have no relevant experiences and are generally undistinguished in every way, shape or form. An exaggeration perhaps, but not much.
By elevating ''conflict of interest'' to an art form, we have deemed it our right to know every scintilla of a government appointee's personal life. Thus, our judgment of them is based not only on our political philosophy and our sense of their competence, but also on what we perceive as a particular individual's political, operative, economic and personal situation and motivation. So often we see not only judges, but members of the executive and legislative branches tried in the court of public opinion - if not in the court of law - purely because of an ''appearance'' of conflict.
All of this makes it very difficult to recruit good people to government service. Plenty of good people have made mistakes - both economic and personal ones. And it is human instinct not to want those mistakes to appear above the fold in the daily newspaper or to be flying around the blogosphere.
There's no argument that in a democracy like ours, we want ''transparency.'' We would also like ''purity of motives.'' However, we are a government of laws, not people. I propose reevaluating the methodology that we impose in our effort to achieve fairness, equality and social progress.
A good place to start would be a debate over this issue of whether stopping the revolving door or speeding it up might be better. I wish Gov. Kasich well in his attempt to find citizens who will take on the burden of governing Ohio. Those officials will rightly be subjected to great scrutiny. They will have to be ''transparent.'' But, rather than be angry at news reporters, I hope the governor will lead a re-examination of the so-called ethics regime that has grown up topsy-turvy during the last half century.
The purity of the system is in the hands of the voters. We need to judge wisely and act decisively when public officials fail in the public trust. For the past 40 years, rather than accepting the burden of ''judging wisely,'' we have shifted that burden to bureaucracy's rule makers. That has not worked well.
I really believe that we should promote the concept of our citizens going in and out of government, business, the professions and the academy and not set up ''rules'' that make those transitions next to impossible.
Chema is president of Hiram College.