Gould professor appointed to statewide political ethics commission

Elizabeth Garrett doesn’t like to rest on her accomplishments.

Earlier this month, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen nominated Garrett to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the state’s political watchdog agency, for her expertise in campaign finance reform, election law and political ethics.

Watchdog · Elizabeth Garrett, vice president for academic planning and budget at USC, will be working to oversee public officials’ practices. - Ian Elston | Daily Trojan

Watchdog · Elizabeth Garrett, vice president for academic planning and budget at USC, will be working to oversee public officials’ practices. - Ian Elston | Daily Trojan

Garret, 46, says she shares the attitude of USC, where she teaches law and works as vice president for academic planning and budget.

“Our attitude is, ‘We’re a great place, but we can always do new and different and better things,’” she said.

Despite all the papers Garrett has written and the classes she has taught about the regulation of the political process, she said doesn’t feel she has accomplished enough.Bowen disagrees.

“Professor Garrett is a perfect fit because she has both academic and real-world experience in the issues the FPPC tackles every day,” Bowen wrote in an email. “She has an outstanding legal background.”

The commission was started in 1974 to enforce the Political Reform Act, a ballot initiative to regulate conflict-of-interest law for public officials.

Once every month, commissioners meet in Sacramento to vote on recommendations made by 80 full-time staff members about conflict-of-interest law for public officials.

Garrett said she wanted to see how the issues, which she has studied and written about for more than 15 years, play out in the real world. Her first meeting with the commission will be Sept. 10.

“This is a terrific opportunity for me to have a sense of the practical effect of the work I’ve produced or been aware of as a scholar,” she said.

The commission will make enforcement and legislative decisions about gifts that public officials receive, how public officials are financing their campaigns and lobbyist registration.

Although Garrett has always been interested in law and the political process — her father, who she has always admired, was a lawyer — she graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history.

After earning her J.D. from the University of Michigan, Garrett worked for US Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and Sen. David L. Boren — both of whom she said helped refine her knowledge about the political process.

She said her studies and subsequent political experience also taught her that problems are complex and that they are a product of the context in which they arise.

“As one deals with problems, you have to take into account the behavior and the reactions of the people who are regulated,” she said.

Robert Rasmussen, dean of the Gould School of Law, said it is obvious to him why Garrett was chosen for the commission.

According to Rasmussen, Garrett always listens and gives reactions to what people are saying — she never preaches.

“She’s not dogmatic like, ‘Here, I’ve found the answer.’ She’s much more, ‘What’s the problem and what can we do to solve it?’” he said.

Katharine Harrington, dean of admission and financial aid who works closely with Garrett, said she would be a great addition to the commission because of her commitment.

“She has a work ethic that would put anyone else we know to shame,” Harrington said.

Rasmussen agreed with Harrington’s assessment.

“You get more out of a half-hour conversation with Beth than you get out of a two-hour conversation with most people,” he said.