Potential is nice.

But results are better.

And when it came to ethics bills introduced for the 2011 legislative session, there was plenty of the former and almost none of the latter.

Twenty ethics-related bills were introduced this year. By March, the halfway point of session, only four clung to life.

Of those four, one passed into law — a measure appropriating funds to pay for the operations of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, among other agencies.

The other three withered away, lost to the archives of the Hawaii Legislature’s website.

The narrative of 2011 ethics legislation was defined by what came to be known as the “gifts bill”. The initial intention of SB 671 was to tighten ethics laws, to force politicians and state employees to be more transparent, have more accountability and offer the public greater access to financial disclosures.

But none of that was meant to be.

Ironically, the bill calling for more oversight somehow devolved into one demanding less. Sen. Brickwood Galuteria proposed an amended version of SB 671 that would have allowed lawmakers to accept more gifts and perks than they can today.

The saga unfolded with verbal sparring between lawmakers and Ethics Commission Executive Director Les Kondo. Despite public outcry to kill Galuteria’s effort, it survived and was redrafted multiple times.

But by late March, lawmakers finally gave up on it.

Ultimately, the great victory for good-government groups in the 2011 session was the defeat of a measure that began as their darling.

The gifts bill wasn’t the only failure.

An anti-nepotism bill also bit the dust. Not that it really mattered though — a loophole in the language of SB 994 called into question whether it would have had any effect even if it were signed into law.

Other bills calling for more mandatory ethics training, strengthening statutory language regarding lobbying laws, equalizing the state and county ethics commissions’ procedures and calling on the state Ethics Commission to retain financial disclosures for longer periods than it currently does were all scrapped.

In sum, it was not a good year for new ethics legislation at the Hawaii Legislature.

But considering the caliber of the content of some of the bills, that may not be all bad news.

There’s always next year.