The news that Tennessee state Sen. Bo Watson signed off on controversial legislation on which his lawyer wife, Nicole, had lobbied the legislature doesn't make us think the senator is corrupt.
But the situation once again brings up how cozy the relationships in local, state and national government can be with those who work in the bureaucracy of government, lobby it or cover it as a member of the media.
We've used this space before to bemoan the increasing local tendency of politicians seeking to hold more than one office, albeit, they say, temporarily, or a relative of a current office-holder to seek election. The just finished Hamilton County primary election offers plenty of examples.
— As is likely to happen because of the makeup of county voters, Republican mayoral candidate Weston Wamp a year from now will be determining whether his district attorney general, his sister, Coty Wamp, gets all the funding she wants for her office. (If the GOP primary winner had been Matt Hullander, he would have been doing the same for the county trustee, his father, Bill Hullander.)
— Future Hamilton County Commissioner Lee Helton, who has no opposition in his District 7 race in August, will be in position to suggest county friendly legislation to his mother, state Rep. Esther Helton.
— GOP county commission District 1 candidate Gene-o Shipley, a former mayor and currently a commissioner in Soddy-Daisy, says he has no intention of stepping down from his Soddy-Daisy post. (He is unopposed in August.) If he as county commissioner can legally steer things Soddy-Daisy's way, why wouldn't he?
— GOP county commission District 6 candidate Ruth Jeno is a former mayor and vice mayor and current commissioner in Red Bank. If she wins the Hamilton County post in August, she could hold both seats at least until November, when the next Red Bank city election is contested.
— GOP county commission District 8 candidate Mike Chauncey, currently a councilman and vice mayor of East Ridge, says he will not run for re-election in East Ridge in November after he wins his seat in August. (He is unopposed.) But for roughly three months, he'll hold both positions.
— Current Chattanooga city councilwoman Jenny Hill is a member of the Hamilton County Board of Education until the winners of the August election are sworn in.
— When state Rep. Greg Martin wins his District 3 Hamilton County Commission re-election race in August — he is unopposed — he will hold both positions. In Martin's case, he said before he ever was appointed state representative he would resign his county commission seat after the election.
— County commissioner Ken Smith, appointed earlier this week to take Martin's place on the panel until the August election, remains a member of the Chattanooga City Council. He has said he would resign that seat if he is reappointed after Martin steps down or if he is elected to fill Martin's seat in November.
— Hamilton County Board of Education member Karitsa Mosley Jones, who is running for a third term in August, was appointed by Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly earlier this year to head the city's newly established Department of Early Learning. To think there would no crossover between the two positions is naive.
— The county has been roiled the past year by the controversy over current District Attorney General Neal Pinkston continuing to employ his former television reporter wife as his chief of staff and her brother as an investigator. They'll both be resigning next week, both having remained on paid leave until the last possible day before the state attorney general would have to take action.
Almost all of the above are Republicans because they dominate Hamilton County government. But in Washington, D.C., the city is full, and has been, of Democratic presidential appointees who have spouses or relatives in influential positions in the federal government bureaucracy, in those who lobby it or those who cover it.
So, as to Watson and his wife? Sure, it's possible, as Watson suggests, that he and his wife "really don't talk about this stuff (legislation)." He says he leaves the room when she is on the phone discussing lobbying business, and that if they're in the car and his wife gets a call, she tells her clients they'll talk later.
But is it plausible?
"[I]t defies logic to say that you can just assure people — don't worry it doesn't influence me — and have people feel that passes the test," Beth Rotman, director of the national watchdog group Common Cause's Money in Politics & Ethics Program, told this newspaper's Andy Sher Thursday.
We, like Rotman, are not accusing the Watsons of wrongdoing. We have strongly supported him in Nashville, and the fact he is unopposed for re-election in November testifies to his general reputation.
But we would like to see more rules in local, state and national government regulating the coziness of such working relationships. The last thing we want to do is keep good people out of government, but — as we've said before — we think government runs best when more people have a role in it and when its principals don't even have the appearance of impropriety.