Our Opinion: Conflicting views over existence of conflict

News Tribune editorial

We believe a local lawmaker has the better argument in a difference of opinion with a statewide elected official.

State Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, believes the office Secretary of State Robin Carnahan would have a conflict of interest if it writes the ballot language for a proposed initiative petition on renewable energy.

The secretary’s brother, Tom Carnahan, is the founder and chairman of the board of Wind Capital Group, which Barnes described as “one of Missouri largest renewable energy suppliers.”

Barnes believes the wording of the ballot language could affect the outcome of the vote. Approval, he wrote in a Dec. 16 letter to the secretary, “would transfer $360 million from Missouri’s electric ratepayers ... to renewable energy suppliers ...” including Wind Capital Group.

In a response Friday to Barnes, the secretary said “I strongly disagree with your suggestion of a conflict.” She said her viewpoint was supported by the attorney general’s office but, nevertheless, she would delegate the ballotwriting task to her deputy.

Barnes contends — and we agree — that delegating the task to an underling does not remove a potential conflict. Employees are inclined to act in accordance with theirs bosses’ wishes — whether spoken or tacit.

The legislator said even if the act of writing the ballot language is legal, elected officials must avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

“No rational Missourian,” Barnes said, “believes Secretary Carnahan doesn’t have a conflict in writing ballot language for a measure that would secure hundreds of millions of dollars in guaranteed sales for a business owned by her brother.”

Although no apparent provision exists for transferring the ballot writing, Barnes believes the secretary could adopt language offered by a “neutral and credible third-party.”

Government incentives to promote alternative and renewable energy companies recently have become a source of public scrutiny and controversy, largely triggered by federal assistance to Solyndra, a now-bankrupt solar power company.

To eliminate such scrutiny and controversy, Secretary Carnahan’s wisest move is to place as much distance as possible between her office and writing the ballot language for the renewable energy proposal.

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