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Ex-Congressman Chris Cannon backs ethics initiative

Published: Sunday, Aug. 8 2010 7:51 p.m. MDT

Former Utah Congressman Chris Cannon has added his name to a citizens' initiative drive aimed at a fundamental reshaping of ethics rules for state lawmakers.

The nonpartisan group behind the initiative, Utahns For Ethical Government, claimed Cannon as their latest, big-name GOP supporter even as a legal battle over signature-gathering deadlines looms on the horizon.

In a statement released Sunday, UEG organizers said Cannon, who served six terms for Utah in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1997-2009, was concerned about the "growing tendency toward corruption in Utah and nationally."

"This will begin a process of transparent public debate which is the predicate for discouraging scoundrels from remaining in or seeking public office," Cannon said.

Cannon's advocacy of top-down state ethics reform aligns him with a number of notable Utah Democrats, including Congressman Jim Matheson and Salt Lake County Mayor, and current gubernatorial candidate, Peter Corroon. He also joins a cadre of one-time elected officials from his own party, including former Gov. Olene Walker, who was making calls to residents on behalf of UEG last week.

Cannon's support of the initiative does, however, put him at odds with Utah's GOP legislative leaders, who contend changes made during last year's session, including the creation of an independent ethics committee, were sufficient.

While the UEG effort fell short of gathering sufficient numbers of signatures in time to put their proposal on the 2010 general election ballot, volunteers have continued to circulate petitions and last week the group said they had amassed more than 97,000 signatures.

While that number surpasses the overall minimum required by state law to put an initiative before voters — 10 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — the additional mandate of acquiring that 10 percent in 26 of 29 Senate districts has yet to be met.

The deadline for securing a place on this year's ballot passed on April 15, but UEG officials say the law allows them to gather signatures for a year after filing their initiative, Aug. 12 in this case. If they get the required signatures gathered by that day, UEG leaders say they've earned a place for their initiative on the 2012 general election ballot.

What remains unclear is whether the statute allows for the issue to be carried over from one ballot to the next. Both the UEG and Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, whose office oversees the initiative process, have acknowledged a likely court battle.

e-mail: araymond@desnews.com

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