Ethics Moratorium Passes NC House

With each week the details of NC House Speaker Jim Black's political machine become more embarrassing to Democrats in particular and North Carolinians in general. Or at least it ought to be embarassing to Democrats. The latest revelations turn out to be sadly not-so-shocking:

Jim Black & Co. took control of the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2002 by bribing fellow house member Michael Decker with an offer of $50,000 and a job for Decker's son. Decker accepted the offer and took the $50,000 (primarily in donations to his campaign account). His son got the job at the legislature as well. In turn, Decker switched from Republican to Democrat and turned a 61-59 Republican majority into a 60-60 deadlock in the legislature. Yesterday Decker admitted to the bribery scheme in federal court:

Despite these revelations, the Democratic indifference is palpable. "It's of course highly distressing that any House member would take money for actions," said one Democratic House member. Is it at all distressing that a Democratic Party leader in the House offered that bribe (and made good on it)?

The hide-our-heads-in-the-sand strategy adopted by Democrats has been both pathetic and counterproductive. Instead of ejecting Black from the Speaker's office and standing up for clean government, my own party has completely undermined the Democratic Party's national strategy and handed a tremendous campaign issue to North Carolina Republicans - and all this in a year that ought to be a slam dunk for Democrats at all levels (other than Black).

Meanwhile the only peep of local dissent was a very weak statement from Represenative Mickey Michaux (Democrat, Durham) who says he might seek the speakership if Black steps down.




More from the N&O
This is buried at the end of this artice ( ):

State Rep. Bill Faison of Orange County, a possible Democratic candidate for governor in 2008, said that he is withholding judgment about Black's role but that he was "profoundly distressed" by the Decker revelations.

"I think Decker's plea makes it more probable that Jim Black will be indicted," Faison said. "Because if you believe Decker's statement, the logical extension of that is that Black was involved. I hope that is not true. Black has done some great things in this state."

I'm not sure which is more troubling, the Black scandal itself or the legislative power politics which insulates him from criticism and repurcussions from his peers. Even our own delegation, for all its vaunted liberalism, has been disappointingly silent.

Well, at least the Common Sense Foundation is outraged (or dismayed perhaps):

Says Common Sense:
"Bags of cash? Secret IHOP meetings? Is this a legislature or a low-budget spy movie?

"In the aftermath of former Rep. Michael Decker's guilty plea in federal court this week, one thing's for sure: Everyone in North Carolina should wish we could go back in time and pass a better ethics reform bill in the just-concluded legislative session.

"Despite the best efforts of reform advocates (such as Common Sense), the N.C. General Assembly passed a reform bill that made only minor changes in the way business is done in Raleigh. Loopholes still abound, including loopholes that allow for unlimited fundraising by lobbyists for campaigns.

"For the past year, we've all been talking about the golden opportunity for reform presented to us by the series of humiliating scandals in state government. Now that the embarrassment is reaching its peak, it sure would be nice to have a newly-passed, tough-as-nails ethics reform bill to wave before the TV cameras and say, “Never again.”

"Maybe next year."

Thanks Mark and Dan. I really appreciate and agree with your comments here. I hope they can be a possitive influence on the rest of our elected and yet to be elected Dems in NC and all through out the state. My prediction is when we get closer to Nov. 2008 their comments will sound allot like this. I hope...

Also.... Chapel Hill council members and Mayor who read OP and don´t comment, this is an excellent example of transparent communication of honnest opinions. The first person writing style is an ESSENTIAL form of communication that fosters trust. Silence just fosters mistrust and doubt.

Two questions, Mark.

1. Do you have any specific insight into why our "vaunted" liberal representatives have been hiding on this issue? I've criticized Joe Hackney a few times at BlueNC and in direct email communications, and have heard nothing in response. For all the talk of his leadership in the House, he's been completely silent on this issue as far as I know. I know and appreciate Joe's action on many legislative issues, but it puzzles the hell out of me that he ducked this whole discussion. What am I missing?

2. When are you going to run for the NC House or Senate?

And Brian, thanks for the nudge to Chapel Hill elected officials. I don't know why they aren't talking, but I totally agree with your comment about silence fostering mistrust and doubt. I'm feeling plenty of both.

Rep. Hackney has a lot to gain politically by keeping his mouth shut. If he comes out strongly against the speaker, that would all but kill his chances of getting the speakership if a) Jim Black steps down or loses his re-election bid and b) Democrats still maintain control of the House.

I'm not saying that's right or wrong, or that this is indeed why we haven't heard from Hackney on this issue. Just a thought.

Black and Decker:

OK, the ethics moratorium passed the House, but I sometimes wonder if representatives have a clue: the tall ships tour in Morehead, what were they thinking?

Just curious. Can anyone here list any progressive legislation that our vauntedly liberal representatives have PASSED in the last few years. Not taking shots at anyone in particular, just can't think of anything meaningful off the top of my head.

Campaign finance reform, healthcare, real lobbying reform, death sentence moratorium.

What pops into my head are things like proposed cuts to medicaid, cuts to mental health coverage, tax cuts for wealthy individuals, tax cuts for corporations. This year, with our budget "surplus" things look better, but when push came to shove...

I'd like to point out that several Chapel Hill elected officials DO comment here on OP. [In the past some even wrote posts. :) ] Plus several of them have blogs too ex. Mark Klienschmidt and Sally Greene. I thank them for their openness. This is only the begining.

FYI, this just in from the chair of the Orange County Democratic Party:

We will have as special guests at the Orange Democratic Breakfast on August 12 Senator Ellie Kinnaird and Representative Verla Insko, who will describe for us the results of the recent Short Session of the NC General Assembly.

More info at

I have alerted Hackney and Insko to this discussion and invited them to participate.

New website and blog is on the way for me, and is "under construction." I enjoy reading and occasionally commenting on OP, which is a fantastic blog that I could never replace, nor wish to. I do think that a truly "open" government is the best "democratic" government, and I want to hear from people about what they think on certain issues. My website/blog will contain news information, my own opinions regarding that information, and the request for others to contribute. It should be finished in the next month, definitely by the time of our first council meeting, September 11. The first six months of council kept me very busy and I look forward to the new council "year".

I look forward to adding it my "must read" list Laurin.

Well Chris, I'm gonna stick my neck out and express the opinion that Joe is wrong for not speaking up.

It's the same old dilemma, you need to be in a position of power (be elected) to have the best chance to shape policy; but at what point does the wish to be in that position trump a principle (that of being a proponent and caretaker of open, honest government) which all elected officials should hold sacrosanct.

I left the Democratic Party in the early 90's when the DLC influence ("let's be Republican lite") won out, and most Dems went along or meekly retreated to self-imposed caves of delusional navel introspection.

Every time I hesitantly think "there is a difference between the parties" (and I know there is), we get a Black episode, or an Iraq War vote, or Jocelyn Elders gets canned, or some other act of cowardice or incompetence or sleaze causes me to retreat to my cave of "a pox on both their houses".

People (elected officials and the general populace) need to focus on public policy instead of the political shell game.

End of rant. Sorry.

Tom, that's certainly one reasonable conclusion you could reach from my post. I've simply stopped saying anything that could be construed as a political opinion on this site -- it gets me into too much trouble with the natives (not to mention any future employers).

The more I think about and read about this miserable state of affairs, the more frustrated I get. I reposted an entry I wrote earlier this spring here and would very much like to see more discussion take root. I know OP isn't focused so much on the legislature and statewide political maneuvering, but we do have to live with our elected officials in Raleigh. They should have to live with us, too.

I wonder why this issue hasn't ignited a firestorm around here? We're looking at real risks in control of the NC House and Senate because of the 'ethics moratorium.' Is it because it's summer?

Jim P, I think the problem is partly that people are already so cynical about how corrupt (ethically and now apparently legally) the legislature is. That is, the situation with Rep. Black is merely what we always thought, not some shocking new revelation. The only real surprise is how well documented this situation is.

Case in point, the lottery scandal.

If you follow the bouncing lottery ball, the relevations, as Mark said, would not be shocking. Pretty much every state lottery in our country has been tainted by some level of corruption at some point in its existence. Black and company's innovation was "pre-loading" the corruption, so to speak (kind of like stealing the pie before it's baked).

Jim Black has been essential in helping to block the discriminatory marriage amendment from escaping cmte for the last several years. Our state should take pride in the fact that we are the only Southern state that has accomplished this. Unfortunately, not all NC Dems are progressive and fair minded on gay issues and we need to keep the ones that are in power.Black's other issues aside, his removal would put gay North Carolinians at even more risk regarding equality than we already are now.

So apparently Black is finally on his way to where he belongs, but look at the mealy mouthed quotes from his compatriots in the House (from today's N&O):

"If the reports are correct, then Thursday will be a sad day for the House of Representatives, and I hope that every member resolves that, under new management, no one in the future will ever take any illegal gratuities again." - House Minority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican

"I'm really saddened by this news. I've known Jim Black as a man who has worked tirelessly for many years to improve the lives of North Carolina citizens." - Former Rep. Phil Baddour, a Goldsboro Democrat who served as House majority leader and roomed with Black in Raleigh

"All of it has just been hard to believe and all of the things that I've read have just been very hard to believe. I'm just very sorry and I'm thinking of his family. It's just a big shock." - Rep. Maggie Jeffus, a Greensboro Democrat

Even Rep. Stam seems like he is stepping around gingerly on this topic. It's good to see that Bob Hall, at least, gets down to brass tacks:

"It is unfortunate that the speaker got involved in illegal activity. It's a sign of a corrupting system in our campaign process that involves millions of dollars in private money that is too often attached with strings." - Bob Hall, research director for Democracy North Carolina, a campaign finance watchdog

But even he still isn't saying what's on my mind:

Good riddance!

But what Hall is implying is that getting rid of Black is only a small step compared to the task of getting rid of the system that created him.

Democracy-NC has issued a statement on "Jim Black's Guilty Plea and Corruption".


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