John Hood's Syndicated Weekly Column
RALEIGH Ė When North Carolina Republican Chairman Tom Fetzer held a press conference a few days ago to urge Gov. Beverly Perdue to fire two controversial members of her Cabinet, you can be sure that he didnít intend to do the governor any favors.
Thatís not Fetzerís job. His job is to elect Republicans.
But intentions arenít the same as results. And as it turns out, Perdue would indeed be well advised to fire Crime Control & Public Safety Secretary Reuben Young and Correction Secretary Alvin Keller without delay.
I donít bear the two officials any personal ill will. I donít know them. But I do know that by their past actions, theyíve put Gov. Perdue in a difficult situation Ė or, more accurately, their actions have worsened the governorís already difficult situation.
Despite recent upticks in statewide polls, Perdue remains one of the most unpopular governors in the United States. Because sheís only been at the job for a year, itís unlikely that her policy decisions alone, as questionable as some have been, explain the depths of her unpopularity. The other explanation has a name: Mike Easley.
The former governor has been thoroughly disgraced, and facing the very real prospect of a criminal indictment. Thatís already happened to one of his closest aides, former legal counsel Ruffin Poole. Other former Easley staffers and political supporters have been talking to prosecutors. Itís unlikely theyíve been spending the past several months exonerating the governor.
In the minds of many North Carolina voters, the Perdue administration is a continuation of the Easley administration. Thatís a bit unfair on two counts. First, unlike the vice president of the United States, the lieutenant governor of North Carolina doesnít really serve in the administration of the top dog. Itís a separately elected job. Its responsibilities pertain mainly to presiding over Senate meetings and serving on state boards.
Second, Gov. Perdue has already taken important steps to distinguish the conduct of her administration from that of her predecessor. Her press aides actually respond to reporter requests and release public records. Perdue appears in public and offers explanations of her policy decisions, whatever you think of them. Her schedule is usually public and reflects an actual attention to the responsibilities of the office, rather than to personal business and tax-funded commuting trips from the beach.
Still, the governor hasnít yet taken the additional steps she needs to convert the political equivalent of a separation into a divorce. As recent testimony in an ongoing lawsuit has revealed, the Easley administration had an ongoing policy of stymieing media inquiries and evading state laws mandating open government. As former legal counsel to Easley, Reuben Young was at least complicit if not active in the administrationís misbehavior.
As for Correction Secretary Keller, his contribution to the mess wasnít years ago, during the Easley administration, but just months ago, while handling one of the Perdue administrationís thorniest issues Ė a NC Supreme Court decision that may result in the release of dangerous criminals with botched ďlifeĒ sentences.
To disagree with the Courtís reading of past state laws and sentencing decisions is one thing. But public records just obtained by the Raleigh News & Observer appear to show that Keller wasnít candid with the judicial branch or the public about what steps his department took to prepare for the release of the inmates before Gov. Perdue went public with her objections.
Coming on the heels of the revelations about the Easley administrationís improper and obnoxious approach to providing public information and complying with its legal and ethical responsibilities, the Keller story has once again drawn a damaging connection between North Carolinaís current governor and her predecessor.
In order to recover her footing and become an asset rather than a liability to a Democratic Party facing big challenges, Perdue should do whatever it takes to put Easley far, far in the rearview mirror. To begin with, it means finding new secretaries at Correction and Crime Control & Public Safety. Itís the right move, even though Tom Fetzer (and now I) said so.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation and publisher of CarolinaJournal.com.