Embattled Rep. Eric Turner will lose his leadership post during the next legislative session after failing to disclose a financial interest in a debate he tried to influence during the last legislative session, House Speaker Brian Bosma said Friday.
Bosma, R-Indianapolis, also said he would author a comprehensive ethics bill to address “significant gaps” in state law and legislative rules that emerged when the House Ethics Committee recently investigated Turner.
“My greatest concern is restoring the confidence of the public in their elected officials,” Bosma said in a prepared statement.
Turner, R-Cicero, has denied violating any rules and said Friday in a statement that he has “remained committed to serving the speaker, our caucus, and the Indiana House with the highest integrity.” But Turner acknowledged that he serves “at the pleasure of the speaker of the House” and respects his decision for the next term.
In April, the Ethics Committee cleared Turner – who has served as speaker pro tem since Republicans retook control of the House in 2010 – of breaking House rules. But the committee said his actions did not achieve “the highest spirit of transparency” when he lobbied his colleagues to lift a nursing home construction moratorium that would have helped him and his family financially.
The committee members took no action against Turner and Bosma said he is confident the group did a “thorough” investigation. But earlier this month, nursing home-related companies owned by Turner’s son – with ties to Turner as well – entered into a $2.3 billion sale and partnership with a firm based in Ohio.
Bosma said Turner did not act appropriately.
“Given the recently disclosed magnitude of Rep. Turner’s personal and family financial interest in the outcome of the nursing home moratorium debate, any involvement in the decision-making process, whether in public debate or through private discussions with fellow elected officials, presented an irreconcilable conflict,” Bosma said. “Rep. Turner should have recused himself entirely from influencing the matter in any way given the personal financial stake involved.”
Bosma said he made the decision “many weeks ago” that Turner would no longer be part of his leadership team after the November election. But he didn’t announce that decision publicly until Friday, just hours after Turner’s election opponent – Democrat Bob Ashley – sent Bosma a letter asking him to compel Turner to answer questions about the issue in person, rather than in writing as he’d done during the ethics investigation.
Turner “has ill-served, embarrassed and compromised the legacy of the great Republican leaders in Indiana,” Ashley said in his letter. “He has disgraced his own fellow House Republicans by failing to wear the mantle of ‘speaker pro tempore’ with the selfless carriage befitting the best Republican and Democratic leaders this state has produced.”
The ethics questions involved a moratorium that Indiana lawmakers placed on nursing home construction in 2009, in part to curb private-paying residents from switching to newer facilities. Proponents of that law say without it, older facilities would have a harder time affording the care for Medicaid patients who would be left.
In March, Hoosier lawmakers were considering legislation that would have extended the moratorium, but it died on the session’s last day. Turner is accused of lobbying in a private caucus against an extension of the moratorium.
Democrats called for an investigation following media reports about Turner’s actions. On Friday, Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody said it has become “increasingly clear that Turner had far more at stake financially than what was originally thought or than what was disclosed.”
“The speaker has made the right decision removing him from leadership,” he said. “But it doesn’t end the culture of corruption that is pervasive with the current Republican leadership at the Statehouse.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.