Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 904: Carolina Corruption: Politicians Giving Us the Devil

Suddenly, the Tar Heel State is on a roll, the spinmeisters say:
• The Stanley Cup is ours.
• Businesses’ phones will be buzzing and cash registers ringing, thanks to the worldwide publicity of the Carolina Hurricanes’ magnificent achievement.
• Raleigh ranks first among desirable places to live on the East Coast.
• Economic “incentives” are bringing companies to North Carolina by the boatload.
• Charlotte’s and Raleigh’s skylines are blossoming, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars from public pocketbooks.

I wish I could agree that the sun is shining in a cloudless sky over North Carolina. But there are also many thunderheads cracking lightning over our state and only a Pollyanna would not notice them.

I’m talking about the dubious achievements and the multitude of scandals that North Carolina’s political establishment is dumping on us in the heart of Raleigh.

Now, now, it’s best we don’t dwell on little bumps in the road, the political elite say. Think of all the good they have done for the state. In a few short years, North Carolina’s best and brightest have brought us some real doozies, as my grandmother used to say.

Here’s a (mercifully) short list:
• The governor, Mike Easley, is fattening his bank account with sweetheart real-estate deals arranged by his campaign donors and appointees to state positions.
• One of our former congressmen, Frank Ballance, is in federal prison for misappropriating taxpayer money.
• A former state agriculture commissioner, Meg Scott Phipps, and some of her assistants are in federal prison for violating campaign-finance laws.
• The speaker of the House, Jim Black, is under state and federal investigation for a myriad of scandals. The General Assembly’s leadership, meanwhile, defying public outrage, curiously refused to replace Black.
• A former state representative, Republican Michael Decker, is under investigation for accepting highly questionable favors from Black in return for switching parties and retaining for the Democrats the balance of power in the Assembly.
• The former director of NCDOT’s Ferry Division, Jerry Gaskill, was convicted of lying to federal authorities in an illegal dredging operation at Corolla. Several other Ferry Division workers were convicted and sentenced before Gaskill’s turn in court came. Senate Pro Tem Marc Basnight instigated the dredging project.
• The Northeast Partnership and its twin, the Northeastern North Carolina Economic Development Commission, were taken to the woodshed by State Auditor Les Merritt for numerous conflicts of interest involving millions of taxpayer dollars and other “fiduciary” hanky-panky.
• The state Commerce Department settled a lawsuit with Carolina Journal and set a legal precedent for becoming the first state agency to pay a plaintiff’s lawyer fees for withholding public records.
• Basnight and Black have maintained millions of dollars in secret slush funds.
•Legislative leaders routinely bypassed public scrutiny in hastily passing the budget, the lottery, and other critical legislation.

With a resume like this, it’s no small wonder North Carolina has to bribe businesses to come here. But will the hundreds of millions already given away to industry be enough to overcome the stench of the state’s sleaze? Following the Easley administration’s logic, more money will be required to sweeten the kitty.

All of this “progressive” reasoning, likewise, makes one wonder when we will have to start bribing Northern and West Coast retirees and others to move to North Carolina. Taxpayers are right to wonder whether our political brethren are giving us the business, or should we call it the monkey business?

I regret raining on the enthusiasm for the Hurricanes. But as comedian Flip Wilson used to say: The devil made me do it.

Richard Wagner is the editor of Carolina Journal.