Legislative Ethics Need Honor Code Like U.S. Military Academy

Idaho’s legislature has a crisis in confidence following numerous ethical lapses on the part of members–some have been convicted, some have lost leadership roles, and others have lost face.
Exterior dome of the Idaho State Capitol building located in Boise, Idaho, USA.
On the third day of the 2013 session they have devoted considerable time to “ethics training,” and they hired outside counsel.

The GUARDIAN has offered perhaps the easiest and most logical solution in the form of the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) HONOR CODE. The code says “a Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” The code in some form has served the Academy since 1802 with the final tweak adopted in 1970 to “not tolerate those who do.”



We have suggested the plan to a Senator and a Representative–both Dems–who scoffed at the suggestion and walked away.

It seems like a pretty simple ethics policy for the members of the Idaho House and Senate to adopt. Just change “cadet” to “member” and it’s ready to adopt.

Three rules of thumb
1. Does this action attempt to deceive anyone or allow anyone to be deceived?
2. Does this action gain or allow the gain of privilege or advantage to which I or someone else would not otherwise be entitled?
3. Would I be dissatisfied by the outcome if I were on the receiving end of this action?

We would suggest they use modified guidelines similar to West Point when it comes to adjudicating violations.
They are tried by a jury of their peers (ethics committee). If they are found guilty, the case will go up to the (full House or Senate) who will give a recommendation to either impose sanctions (strip the member of committee assignments) or recommend impeachment.

Definitions of the tenets of the Honor Code
LYING: Cadets violate the Honor Code by lying if they deliberately deceive another by stating an untruth or by any direct form of communication to include the telling of a partial truth and the vague or ambiguous use of information or language with the intent to deceive or mislead.
CHEATING: A violation of cheating would occur if a Cadet fraudulently acted out of self-interest or assisted another to do so with the intent to gain or to give an unfair advantage. Cheating includes such acts as plagiarism (presenting someone else’s ideas, words, data, or work as one’s own without documentation), misrepresentation (failing to document the assistance of another in the preparation, revision, or proofreading of an assignment), and using unauthorized notes.
STEALING: The wrongful taking, obtaining, or withholding by any means from the possession of the owner or any other person any money, personal property, article, or service of value of any kind, with intent to permanently deprive or defraud another person of the use and benefit of the property, or to appropriate it to either their own use or the use of any person other than the owner.
TOLERATION: Cadets violate the Honor Code by tolerating if they fail to report an unresolved incident with honor implications to proper authority within a reasonable length of time. “Proper authority” includes the Commandant, the Assistant Commandant, the Director of Military Training, the Athletic Director, a tactical officer, teacher or coach. A “reasonable length of time” is the time it takes to confront the Cadet candidate suspected of the honor violation and decide whether the incident was a misunderstanding or a possible violation of the Honor Code. A reasonable length of time is usually considered not to exceed 24 hours.

To have violated the honor code, a Cadet must have lied, cheated, stolen, or attempted to do so, or tolerated such action on the part of another Cadet. The procedural element of the Honor System examines the two elements that must be present for a Cadet to have committed an honor violation: the act and the intent to commit that act. The latter does not mean intent to violate the Honor Code, but rather the intent to commit the act itself.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Hmmm, if our local and regional newspapers (the Coeur d’Alene Press and The Spokesman-Review) were judged by those standards, they’d be out of business.

    Deception by omission is a big one. The facts they use are usually verifiable, however they are often incomplete, thus leaving the reader with a different impression than the complete facts would depict.

    EDITOR NOTE–Your point is well taken, but it is important to note while the media does indeed have a public trust, they are not elected and cannot spend the public’s money or pass laws.

  2. As a former Marine I have traveled all over the world. I have seen many countries, interacted with many peoples, lived extended periods of time in place where English was not a common language, and served two tours in Iraq. With my personal experience I can say that I have never, NEVER in my life came across an evil so corrupted, and so ego-centric as that which exists in our own capital building. These people who claim to be our representatives have proven to me that they care nothing about the people, or about what is right, they only care about what is best for their own political careers (which was essentially told to me from the mouth of one of our senators). This is something that boggles my mind, as in the military we are not perfect, but trained to be just, true, and fight with honor, and we are taught this from the federal government. Why then is our state so different? Why then is our state so,…. Perfunctory?

    They wouldn’t know how to read such a code as suggested in this article, THEY lead by the “do as I say, but not as I do” method.

  3. Ronin,

    Thank you for your service.

    Regarding your comments, is it not true that what is good for a politician’s career…is getting majority votes in elections?

    And if they get majority votes in elections then they have properly served the majority of voters – or “we the people.”

    So how is that wrong?

    I voted for most of these “evil” people and they continue to please me about 70-30% of the time vs. displease me. So they do represent me, and evidently most of the others.

  4. My Two Cents
    Dec 28, 2012, 1:34 pm

    I would disagree with Ronin that they are taught to be just, true and fight with honor by the federal government. I think the federal government is as corrupt, perhaps more so, than the local legislature here in Idaho that everyone is so upset about. There is no honor in the U.S. Senate or House; they work for their own benefit — whether their lifetime paycheck or whatever will get them re-elected (other than a select few who have ethics and integrity). I think the problem crosses party lines too. Sad.

  5. Horse racer the only way they could please you is if your one of the wealthy that doesn’t pay his far share. As far as them doing for the majority of the population, that just doesn’t happen.

  6. Cody Mitchell
    Dec 28, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Which Senator and Rep scoffed at the idea?

    EDITOR NOTE–Werk and King

  7. The majority? Well I don’t know the majority of the state, but I am capable of communicating to those who I come into contact with, and the majority of THOSE people (vets, college students, and blue collar workers) seem to all come to the general consensus that the government is not working for them.

  8. Horse Racer
    Dec 28, 2012, 9:07 pm


    I didn’t say “majority of the population,” I said “majority of voters.” There is a difference. If you want to have it your way, then advance your candidates with votes.

    I am not one of the wealthy, but I think I pay my fair share. In 2011 I paid fed income taxes of about $18K figured by Turbo Tax.

    Mitt Romney had no job, and he paid $1.8 million. What is a “fair share?”

  9. So there horse racer, you support the social exclusion of whole groups of people? You support the marginalization and separation of a people just because of a technicality? Just because someone may not vote, (be it for any reason like a soldier on deployment, honest citizen held in jail for an erroneous reason, which happens a lot in this state, or workers that were brought here through “big business” but left without a citizenship), does NOT mean that they are not worthy of being treated as human beings, or be acknowledge as a part of the community, (and no, I am not talking about the drug dealers that prey on the public through illegal status, because not all those who are not able to vote are hardened criminals).

    If you support the exclusion of whole groups of people, you then support the failed ideals of “purification”. The Spanish did it back when they wanted to kick the Jews and Muslims out of Spain 1500s; the Germans did it when they wanted those they labeled undesirable out of existence. These two examples along with countless others show that each time a government forces the exclusion of a whole group it only leads to the inevitable self-destruction of the country. To claim to support freedom, but to only offer it to those who appease you is tyranny.

    About your “fair share”, I don’t give a damn what you paid in taxes. You throwing out numbers like it is supposed to mean something doesn’t accomplish anything. You want to talk about fair share, then how about an honest day’s work? How about a real day busting your ass to make this country great again? How about instead of just sitting on the internet spewing out your drivel and coffee shop talk you go and actually do something to make a positive change?

  10. Where is the Grover Norquist of honesty in government? Most of our elected officials have signed his pledge for no new taxes at the Federal Level, how about some honesty and integrity in serving the interests of the “people”. Who knows, this might just raise their approval ratings out of the single digits.

    At the state and local level elected officials have made Idaho the land of cheap labor, cheap housing and cheap land. The median income in Idaho is less than $24k/yr.!

    These fools we have continue to subsidize companies with jobs that pay low wages with millions of $$$$$ in tax incentives creating yet more people on public assistance and pat themselves on the back for what a great job they are doing for all of us.

  11. Horse Racer
    Dec 29, 2012, 7:26 pm

    Whoa Ronin, I’m thinking you either didn’t get your nap or you got coal for Christmas.

    It is interesting how much you assume about someone you do not know. And it is sad that you consider a fellow’s opinion “drivel.” Yet you offered no ideas or policy changes, or anything.

    This Republic of ours takes mutual respect for dissenting opinions. I voted in November and won a few (i.e. Rep Raul Labrador) and lost a few (i.e. President Obama, and Idaho Education Reform). Okay, the majority of voters had their say and that is the direction we go. I respect that.

    However, I will make phone calls, write to policy makers and attempt to influence direction. That is how our system works. The more you respect it, the more it works for you.

    No one is excluded from that process. I won’t debate insults further.

  12. wow Ronin..calm down..you Marines seem to have a problem with people who dont agree with you.

  13. Horse Racer if you paid $18K in taxes, I wonder what percentage that was compared to someone that makes $40,000.

  14. Horse Racer
    Dec 30, 2012, 1:19 pm


    I paid about 23%.

    I’m not sure I understand your point. I have made $30,000, and $40,000, and now a bit more.

    Yet I receive the same amount of “democracy” as anyone else. So what is a fair share?

    FYI, I am a flat tax proponent. We all pay different dollar amounts but the same %. But those discussions go nowhere in Congress.

  15. Flat tax! Thats exactly where it should be.

  16. I don’t have to assume anything as long as you keep submitting your obvious support for a broken system, the evidence that your viewpoints are warped is clear. This state, along with its many ultra-conservative supporters, is the bright shining light of ignorance and failure. Idaho is the leader of the pack when it comes to corruption, greed, and elitism that ignore what the people want for its own self interests. You speak of voting as if it makes a difference in this state, well obviously your goldfish like memory will not allow you to remember the term limit vote, which was voted for what, four times? And yet our benevolent government refused to implement it? This is just one example and I’m sure that every single person on this website can come up with another.
    Yes, I get upset when I see such blatant ignorance, especially when it is from a system that is supposed to be run by the people. This is not a democracy, this is a republic, and yes I get emotional when I sacrificed so much for this country, and now that I am home I see what the government truly is, and it pisses me off. I see now that neither this state nor its people are worth fighting for, and if I could get those years of service back I would.

  17. Ronin,

    I served and sacrificed too, so don’t lecture this old airborne infantry dog about it.

    It is sad that you see my position as blatant ignorance, and you see Idaho as not worth fighting for.

    Then give up the fight, get treatment for your anger, and enjoy life.

  18. Ronin, since you seem so dissatisfied here…. why dont you do something about it. Other than patting your self on the back for your years of service, and of course complaining.

  19. The real issue here with taxes is the rich have figured out how to make their income fall into the “capital gain” area for taxation. Meanwhile, most people pay on ordinary income schedules for taxes.

    Capital gain taxes are 15% at this point in time. It used to be 20% and the repubs convinced giving the rich a tax break would be good for investment and the economy. It was yet another tax shift and reduction tilted toward the rich.

    I put money into a 401K plan and now when I pull it out it won’t be taxed as a capital gain but it will be ordinary income. I am forced to make withdrawals (Minimum distribution based on IRS life expectancy) when I turn 70.5 and pay full income tax rates. Once again the working guy pays full taxation as income and the smarties on Wall Street pay the capital gain rate of 15%.

  20. Flyhead;

    Your post is very timely. Starting tomorrow, without congresional action, capital gains tax will go back to 20%, plus a new 3.8% capital gains tax to fund medicaid. From 15% to 23.8%, that is a 58.6% increase in the percentage rate for capital gains taxes. (Those in a lower tax bracket will pay less, about 10-13%)

    Now without opinion, but for discusions sake:

    The working man who pays 20% tax rate on $50K income has paid $10,000 to the government. The rich man who earns $300K but only pays 15% has paid $45,000 in taxes. Does the rich man who has paid about 4 times more than the working man in taxes also consume 4 times the amount of benefit or services from the government they both fund?

    There is a lot of focus on the percentage rate people pay, we should also be considering the dollar value and consumption of services as percentages can be misleading.

    Now for opinion’s sake:

    I believe those who pay the fewest taxes, consume the majority of government services. There is a disconnect between those who consume services and those who fund those services.

    We incentivize people to do things we think are good, should there not be an incentive to gaining wealth? It seems our government likes to punish those who choose not to be dependent upon the government and try to increase their wealth.

    In fact we incentivize being poor, for those with low income: free or low cost cell phones, free or low cost housing, free or low cost food, free or low cost bus passes, free or low cost health care, free or low cost educational benefits, free or low cost legal aid, etc. Mostly paid for by those who are not eligible for these benefits.

    EDITOR NOTE–JJ, all you need to do is quit making so much money! 🙂

  21. Giving up might be in your nature, but it is not in mine, and as long as this state continues to enact unjust punishments, I will fight.

  22. Boise Writer
    Dec 31, 2012, 7:37 pm

    Dear Ronin,

    I am sad for you, as you are the first “former” Marine I have ever “met.”

    I served in the mud, and alongside many Marines (I was Army), and have Marines as friends today. They all say “once a Marine, always a Marine.” That is the code.

    For you to denounce your Corps but gloss your service is unsettling. You seem to have served only to protect those with the wisdom of your beliefs. I served to protect and defend those idiots who disagree with me….along with those who agree.

    Please seek help, counseling if you need it, and reconnect with your Corps.

  23. JJ: I confess to being a tad confused. In your last graf, are you talking about the poor or about politicians who give themselves fat raises, take full time bennies for part-time work, have on-staff free legal aid, and get expense accounts that cover such things as cell phones and business lunches, etc,? Hard to tell the difference.

    Ronin: THANKS for your service. We should never relinquish our right to fight for justice in this country!

  24. JJ

    You say you believe that those who pay the least amount of taxes use the majority of services. I believe that the people who use the major amount of the services pay no tax at all. The middle class pays a disproportionate (even according to your #’s) amount by pure percentage. With a good accountant, which those of you who make 300K, will inevitably have, finding ways for you to (hide) money your effective tax rate I would guess will be even lower than the 15% you state. By your own numbers you are already paying less than the “working man” why is it that you feel you are entitled to pay less even though you make more? This country needs a flat tax , then everyone will be treated equally, if we use 10% tax for example then your example of the working stiff making 50k would pay 5k, and your 300K would pay 30K then everything is even for everyone(on a % basis).
    You state that those making 300k use fewer services than those making less and site free/ subsided phones ect as things that you disagree with. If we use that mentality and knowing that no one making 50k, 30k or I would even bet 20k gets those services then the person making 20k should not be burdened with subsidizing those services either. Those that make that 300k believe that since they do not use these services they should not be burdened with paying for the services and that those making 50k or less should be saddled with paying for these services. I guess, no I know, those making 300k and above believe “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”. Remember no matter how much disdain you feel for those less fortunate, if they are not there to use goods and services your portfolio shrinks.

    Ronin… please give that arm you use to pat yourself on the back a break… it must be getting tired

  25. This post has created the question in my mind of just how many elected officials would pass a drug and alcohol test adminsitered on a random basis?

    The Honor Code is a much higher standard than passing a simple drug test and I am waiting to see if any of the folks we elected to office will actually step up and sign your pledge.

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