Our Views: Our burden of proof

Ouch, this remark stings a bit, especially because it’s about political corruption.

“Utah doesn’t think of itself in these terms. This is not Louisiana. This is not Illinois.” That was from Matthew J. Burbank, an associate professor of political science at the University of Utah, quoted in The New York Times.

He was reacting to a scandal that has resulted in the arrests of two former attorneys general of the state of Utah.

Felony and misdemeanor charges have been filed against the two men covering the waterfront of what attorneys general can get in trouble for doing: receiving or soliciting a bribe or bribery by public official, false statements, evidence tampering, misuse of public money and obstruction of justice.

They are innocent until proven guilty in our system, but the indictments certainly shook up Utah.

Leading to the unfortunate comparison by Professor Burbank.

That comparison may be a result of the recent conviction of former Mayor Ray Nagin in New Orleans on corruption charges. That trial and conviction certainly made the national papers.

But the root of the accusation, and the comparison with Illinois — famed for the Chicago political machine and convictions of several governors in Springfield — is based on real enough events.

We deplore the association of Louisiana’s culture with corruption. It is not enough that most public officials are conscientious, or at least honest. We’ve had three recent governors — Mike Foster, Kathleen Blanco and Bobby Jindal — whose decisions one may disagree with but against whom no credible charges of personal financial dishonesty have been levied.

In another category are public officials who get into trouble because of allegations of bad behavior. In St. Bernard, Parish President David Peralta was indicted in April on a charge of sexual battery against his then-wife. Those also make news.

So impressions are difficult to change, particularly when cases like Nagin’s draw national attention. And the ugly fact is that Nagin was the 17th elected official from the city and its suburbs to be sentenced on federal corruption or fraud charges since Hurricane Katrina and the breaching of the region’s levees laid waste to the area.

It is important to the future of the region and the state that we demand ethical behavior in public office, not just for the sake of the political process and efficient government. Our reputation precedes us when we continue to solicit new businesses and new residents for the state.

We want more people to come and be a part of the renaissance of greater New Orleans since 2005, and the extraordinary and growing level of economic and social progress that we see in cities and towns across Louisiana.

We’re better than our corrupt officials. But we also have to do what we can to prevent corruption from occurring, for ourselves and for our reputation.