Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Jim Black Blot

Jim Black, former Speaker of the House, pled guilty to a felony this week after resigning his Mecklenburg County legislative seat. Without going into all the details – details which Democrats have become all too familiar with during the last two years – we Eighth District Democrats need to consider several matters.

Most of former Speaker Black’s legislative district is within the Eighth Congressional District. Several brother or sister bloggers have identified three or four persons who seek consideration for the now-vacant seat. What persons are interested in throwing their hats into the ring?

Who would you recommend to Mecklenburg Democrats? Why?

Mecklenburg readers in particular, what are your thoughts on who should succeed Jim Black?

In addition to Mecklenburg, are Democrats sensing any political fallout in counties around the Eighth Congressional District? Where might this ordeal, if at all, be a factor in primary or election campaigns?

* * * * *

In my opinion, the overall scandal did not resonate in the 2006 elections because the average voter did not really understand the minutiae and legalisms of some of the campaign finance violations that had been alleged, deliberated and proven.

The equation is different now.

The average voter – heck, even your way below average voter – has no trouble understanding and reacting to what simply was a $29,000 pay-off, complete with secret meetings in bathrooms. What we know now, after the federal plea, is incredibly easy to insert into any campaign’s radio or TV ad or direct-mail piece. And it will happen, believe me. Sadly, some of my former legislative colleagues in close districts will be on the receiving end of such ads crafted by Republican consultants next year. Even though they are good and honest and ethical, hard-working folks, these lawmakers will likely bear a burden for just having been in the legislature at the time this saga unfolded.

As a former legislator and an attorney myself, and with regular interaction with folks in and around Raleigh, we Democrats should heed the following: Prepare ourselves. Why? Because the worst may not be over. The way the plea agreement reads strongly suggests that others continue to be subjects of a federal investigation. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that Jim Black pleaded guilty to a felony unrelated – according to all media coverage and insider conversations and informed speculation – to any of the subjects that have previously percolated throughout the ordeal. Those subjects include video poker, the lottery, the Michael Decker party-switch, the House historian position, et al.

Rumors run rampant in Raleigh that one or more long-time, high-level Democratic and Republican officials remain under scrutiny. Some suggest that several lobbyists nervously wonder if they will also find themselves under the microscope and in the courtroom now that Jim Black pleaded guilty and promised cooperation with federal authorities.

In fact, it is not going too far out on a limb to say this: If either the sentencing of former Rep. Decker or former lottery commissioner Geddings is postponed again, and/or if Jim Black’s sentencing is similarly postponed, then that will lend strong credence to the deduction that more indictments are forthcoming. (For those who might not follow me here, the theory is this: If there is more information needed in order to inculpate another person, then potential sources of that information, that is, those persons who already pled guilty and promised cooperation in advance of sentencing, will have their sentencing phases delayed. If the information provided leads to the indictment of another culprit, then such assistance may result in a more lenient sentence.)

As a sidebar, and perhaps this is from overdosing on Law & Order TV shows every week, might there be any persons who have been given immunity as part of their cooperation?

And as for Jim Black personally, this whole chapter contrasts immensely with the rest of his life as I know it.

Though no one of us is perfect, it physically hurts to find out that a heretofore good and honest person has intentionally violated the law and surreptitiously sought ways to gain personally and financially from his official duties.

In fact, many legislators in both parties are stinging right now as a result of what happened in federal court this week. Republicans and Democrats expected a plea related to the known subjects. Based upon their personal relationships with Jim Black, no one ever expected that he had committed any act – unethical or unlawful – that involved personal gain. “A punch to the gut,” is what one legislator and another long-time Democratic blogger each described as feeling.

Regardless, this whole saga has been and continues to be a blot for public servants in the legislature. The vast, overwhelming supermajority of lawmakers is ethical, honest and only in Raleigh to represent both their districts and the State in the best ways they know how. The lapses or sins of a speck of officials over the years truly casts a shadow over all of us involved in public service and, frankly, over politics in general. Given that politics is ultimately the business of the people, it is a sad time.

Out of this horrid nadir I am so thankful that leaders like new House Speaker Joe Hackney are there to pick up the pieces.

When it is all said and done, let us hope that good people will not cast aside an interest in public service as a result of this matter.

If they do, then that is the ultimate penalty we North Carolinians will pay.


Anonymous said...

Has it been established that Black did use the money for himself? I hadn't heard.

Anonymous said...

Joe White sounds like a good successor to me.

Wayne Goodwin said...

To the best of my knowledge, it has not been established that Jim Black used the money for himself.

Though there has not been any published or recognized proof of Jim Black yet using the money for himself directly, that is the logical presumption most folks would have. To the best of my knowledge, though, there is growing speculation - speculation only - that the funds were most likely used by or for one or more other persons besides Jim Black. The hypothetical range of such potential recipients includes various political and personal allies. But, then again, folks who know Jim Black never expected that he would have committed a crime for financial gain.

For now, pundits are speculating as to whom the $29,000 were for.