RALEIGH -- With the start of 2004 has come the inevitable spate of articles and columns offering predictions for the coming year. Some of these prognosticatory pieces have focused on politics. Others have examined economic or social trends. On the air, radio and television programs have offered similar opportunities to hosts and guests, including my fellow panelists on last week's edition of "N.C. Spin".
Within North Carolina, the predictions I've seen so far have offered some entertainment, wisdom, and a few surprises. In the latter category, I have to say, I've been distressed by the number of knowledgeable political observers who are convinced that U.S. Rep. Frank Ballance, the Democrat and former state senator elected in 2002 from the 1st Congressional District in the northeast, will be re-elected in 2004.
It doesn't distress me in the sense that I think Ballance has performed horribly in the U.S. House. I don't agree with many of his freshman votes, but then again that's true for quite a number of congressmen whose re-election won't distress me. Indeed, I'd venture to say that given the demographics of the 1st District, I'll rarely agree with the legislative agenda of anyone likely to be elected from there, such as former Supreme Court Justice and possible Ballance challenger G.K. Butterfield.
The problem, obviously, is the fact that Frank Ballance is at the center of a serious scandal involving the misuse of state taxpayers' money. While a longtime senator, Ballance helped steer millions of your dollars to a nonprofit under his direct control and, in turn, supplying funding for his own church, his own political machine, his own relatives, and, indirectly, his own bank account. Furthermore, when confronted with questions about the John A. Hyman Foundation, Ballance offered little in the way of explanation or documentation. He couldn't, as it turned out that the Hyman Foundation had failed to file its required federal tax returns.
My Carolina Journal colleagues helped to uncover many of these misdeeds, as did reporters at the Associated Press, The News & Observer, and other news organizations. After a critical report from State Auditor Ralph Campbell and early steps to recoup tax money by Attorney General Roy Cooper, it can no longer be seriously suggested that Ballance's problems were manufactured by his political enemies or the result of regional or racial bias. It remains an open question whether Ballance or his political allies committed crimes. A federal grand jury is reportedly considering the issue of indictments as I write this. But the misdeeds are not in question, not anymore.
So what I'm saying is that if a senior political stateman in North Carolina -- one who enjoyed tremendous stature in Raleigh as a leading state senator for years and who then became a member of the United States Congress -- can engage in such rampant and outrageous misbehavior in the course of his public service and then gain re-election after public discovery of the same, the political system of our state would be revealed as so deeply corrupted as perhaps to be unworthy of the public's respect.
I just can't believe this to be true. But then again, I have also stated repeatedly that I didn't think the national Democratic Party would be suicidal enough to nominate the hapless and witless Howard Dean, and every day seems to bring us closer to that very real possibility.
Perhaps I just can't carry the current political tune.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.
p.s. As for yesterday's extra-points questions, thanks to all of you who emailed me a full, scary set of lyrics to the Bonanza theme song. It was only sung once by Lorne Greene, for the pilot. I'm guessing that hordes of TV viewers throughout the greater Los Angeles area then descended on the studio, destroying every copy of the song they could find and thus narrowly averting auditory disaster. The result was one of the most memorable instrumental TV themes of all time. Funny how things work out.
Now, as to the second question, "Daily Journal" readers have not yet, as men of Gondor might say, shown their quality. No, my favorite '60s Western was not Rawhide, The Big Valley, or F-Troop. I mean, really, F-Troop? So I'm an idiot, now?
OK, here's a few more hints. The program I had in mind had a famous theme song of its own, several of words of which I sprinkled into yesterday's column. It starred an unlikely Western hero who had also played Robin Hood and was a descendant of a famous, real-life frontier hero. And contrary to accepted practice, the good guy always wore a black hat.