Over the past couple of years, news articles in the Southeast Missourian and other media outlets have documented the dubious political consulting business operated by state Rep. Rod Jetton of Marble Hill. Jetton's rise from county commissioner in Bollinger County to the important leadership post as speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives has been as dramatic as any in Missouri politics in recent years. Jetton's communication skills and his forthrightness when discussing key issues have served him well.
But Jetton has had a blind spot regarding the image of government he has created by accepting money from other legislators whose legislative proposals and positions he controls.
Now some legislators and state officeholders are criticizing Jetton for taking thousands of dollars in political consulting fees while serving as House speaker. The criticism is bipartisan, with several top members of his own Republican Party calling for a new law that would prohibit such activities.
Jetton, in a news conference last week, said it's mostly politics driving the attack on his political consulting. He's right, in part. Political interests have spurred government officials to criticize Jetton now, just as political interests kept the criticism from bearing on public issues until after Jetton had lost his influence as speaker of the House due to term limits. But this is also more than politics. It's about the kind of government we want in Missouri.
Jetton rightly points out that his consulting company is legal and that he has disclosed his clients. His claim that the consulting was "approved" by the Missouri Ethics Commission may go a little too far, however. The commission two years ago said it apparently did not violate any laws -- because there was no law specifically prohibiting such activity.
What's needed is a carefully considered law that would prohibit consulting by officeholders in leadership positions. If such a law had been in place in 2006, the ethics commission would have been able to deal with the impropriety of Jetton's consulting. Better yet, Jetton would not have engaged in such activity in the first place.