RALEIGH – Let me see if I can put this diplomatically: if Britt Cobb, Democratic candidate for agricultural commissioner, has the integrity and character that mutual friends claims he has, then he will end his farce of an election protest immediately.
If not, then I am sad to say that a disgraceful tradition of leadership at the Department of Agriculture will continue.
There is no, absolutely no legitimate argument in favor of what Cobb and his political allies are attempting to do in overturning the results of his 2004 contest with Republican Steve Troxler. Some 4,400 voters in Carteret County showed up to vote according to the law, were the victims of a voting-machine malfunction, and deserve to have their legitimate votes counted in the final result. It is theoretically possible, though highly unlikely, that their votes will erase Troxler’s current statewide lead.
That lead exists because millions of North Carolinians have already cast their vote in the race. Under no circumstances do they deserve to have their votes thrown away, their preferences set aside because some cabal in Raleigh feels like it. And yet Cobb’s lawyers are trying to do exactly that, with the active connivance of the three Democrats on the North Carolina State Board of Elections, in offering up the absurd notion of holding a new statewide election for the office.
No such election can be held unless four of the five members of the state board agree. That means getting at least one of the Republican appointees to say yes. But both said no. So Cobb’s legal Smeagols decided to fake it by claiming that a previous 4-1 vote, supporting a now-discarded option of a special election in Carteret alone, could be "amended" by a simple 3-2 vote to authorizing the statewide election.
I’d say this bit of dishonesty merits more than just being struck down by the Supreme Court. I’d say that it merits a demand for all three Democrats’ resignations, so that Gov. Mike Easley can find some honest Democrats (I know there are many) to serve. I’d say that, but perhaps board chairman Larry Leake and his colleagues were secretly crossing their fingers or something, and didn’t really mean it. Given their sixth-grade-level antics, it would be in character.
Elections officials can at least hide behind the pretense of trying to follow the law (though make no mistake, it is all about pretending, not about doing what’s right). Britt Cobb cannot. There is no law or custom requiring him to pursue his case.
The right thing to do at this point is for Cobb to step forward and end this spectacle the way it should be ended: with a concession to Troxler. There is no other way to save his reputation, accumulated through years of service as a hard-working and effective department employee. If he does not, Cobb will be remembered either as a buffoon who cost taxpayers millions of dollars in a fruitless grab for power, or as a miscreant who was tapped to end a culture of state corruption but, in the end, chose to perpetuate it. Neither is an attractive prospect.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.