Under Speaker Jim Black politics in Raleigh has become letting a gaming company write the lottery implementing legislation for North Carolina’s $1.2 billion lottery experiment just because the company hires the right crony.
Black has betrayed the trust placed in him by the voters of Matthews and citizens across the state and should resign. Black’s then-political aide Meredith Norris, by any reasonable definition of the term and all denials to the contrary, lobbied for Scientific Games. The dinners she arranged between Black and a top Scientific exec were not about tiddly-winks.
Not only that, back when the relationship between Norris and Scientific Games first became public, Black’s office ran out to wallop anyone who even suggested there might be a problem with Norris being on the payroll of the lottery company as legislators worked on the lottery question. She was not lobbying, as Scientific was just “interested in having someone monitor the Legislature for them to keep them apprised of any developments,” Norris told a reporter.
In September, Black’s spokeswoman, Julie Robinson also took that line and said Norris did not lobby Black on the lottery.
“Even if she did tell him, it wouldn’t have impacted or changed his efforts during this session,” she said. “And for you to imply otherwise would just simply be wrong.”
That’s malice folks. That’s arrogance. That’s unfit for public office. And it is not like this is first time something like this has happened.
We have the $5 million department of transportation slush fund, the Johnson & Wales fiasco — where Jim Black decreed he, not the governor or the legislature controlled state property in Charlotte and could give it away as he pleased, the $500,000 Black slipped in the state budget for a basketball tourney, and generally acting like North Carolina was his personal fiefdom to control as he wished.
All along Mecklenburg County got the short end of the stick, as Black built up his powerbase at the expense of actually being a forceful advocate for the county’s legitimate road building needs or the scandalous lack of state money for prosecutors. Oh, one dirt road in Mint Hill did get paved thanks to Black’s influence. Thanks.
But the lottery business leaves no doubt what Jim Black thinks about his role. He thinks Jim Black makes his own rules. Black had to know that the yacht outings in Seattle that Norris put together for lawmakers on behalf of Scientific were lobbying. Black had to know that sitting down with Scientific Games Vice President Alan Middleton for dinner was lobbying.
Black let Middleton have special access to legislative process because Middleton knew Norris; there is no other way to look at it. Norris felt comfortable writing to Black’s staff lawyer in ways that make clear her unique access: “Are there any other Members that might need some ‘love’ and time with the Speaker? Probably don’t want to make it too big, but if you know of anyone that needs TLC/attention let me know!”
Norris, who once called Mecklenburg Rep. John Rhodes “a true nutcase” and had a brief stint at the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, operated at the very nerve center of Speaker Black’s political operation because Black wanted it that way. In fact, Black’s own office staff emailed Norris to find out what Black thinks about issues. Emails obtained by the News & Observer prove it.
In May, Zadia Brown of Black’s office emailed Norris to ask what Black thought about the Clean Water Act, cigarette taxes, immigration, and hiring more teachers for public schools. Brown said she needed “better direction” on those issues.
Now that Norris has hired Charlotte attorneys and faces a Secretary of State investigation into her non-lobbying lobbying, Black says he ended his relationship with her a month or two ago. Too late.
We already know what we have in Jim Black: A classic machine politician who surrounds himself with influence peddlers and revels in the power a closed, secretive system affords him. His time is past.