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Wednesday, 30 August 2006 00:00

Jim Black’s enablers carry on

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The scandals around N.C. House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, multiply like mushrooms on the forest floor. Yet a casual reader of the news might be inclined to think that Mr. Black was a politician in some other state.

Yes, some Republican leaders have broadcast Black’s political sins before an apparently apathetic public, and the media continue to log the convictions and court decisions that heap more disgrace upon Black and his former colleagues. Still, there is a great silence. It is the silence of Jim Black’s enablers.

Who are Jim Black’s enablers?

They walk among us. There are two types. First are most of the Democrats elected to the N.C. House, including the two representing Haywood and Jackson counties — Phil Haire, D-Sylva, and Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill.

No, this column is not engaging in character assassination, and I am not taking a cheap shot nor declaring guilt by association. I am stating a fact, a political reality rooted in our state’s governing process.

Voters of Western North Carolina should be reminded exactly who Black is and how he rose to Olympian heights where he has great powers over the flow of legislation, the allocation of campaign funds, and committee assignments — to mention only a few.

Black represents the 100th District. He has served 10 terms. While his constituents gave him a job in Raleigh, his Democratic colleagues gave him the power by electing him Speaker, and they kept him in office long after his misconduct was public knowledge.

It is important to note that three Democratic House members did not go along with the crowd. Lorene Coates of Rowan, Alice Underhill of Craven, and Pricey Harrison of Guilford have demanded that Black step down.

However our mountain men in the House — Haire and Rapp — remain silent. Sen. John Snow, D-Murphy, has called on Black to step down.

The errant behavior of Black was known well before he gaveled the House into session in May. I have space for only a few examples.

Black almost lost his seat of power after the 2002 election when the GOP gained a bare majority in the House. This majority evaporated when Michael Decker left the GOP to join Black’s party, creating a partisan tie in the chamber and enabling Black to serve as co-Speaker. Decker returned to the GOP but was rejected in the 2004 primary. After Decker’s defeat, Black felt compelled to contribute $4,000 to his campaign fund. Black’s reason? He thought Decker still had a future in politics. Decker obviously thought otherwise. He closed out his campaign account the day after the Speaker’s donation with a check payable to himself.

On Aug. 1, Decker pleaded guilty in federal court for accepting a payment of $50,000 for supporting Black for the Speaker’s office after the 2002 election. Black denies making any such payment, and the federal government has not yet revealed its alleged source of the funds. The Charlotte Observer reported this past weekend that Black’s campaign also made two $5,000 payments to the Winston-Salem law firm now representing Decker.

Meredith Norris, Black’s former political director, was convicted Aug. 11 for working as an unregistered lobbyist for Scientific Games Corp., which sells lottery services and paraphernalia. As reported by the Associated Press, the N.C. Secretary of State records show that Norris had a $5,000 per-month contract with the New York firm.

The legal problems of this Waynesville native were widely known in the spring, as was the plight of Kevin Geddings, Black’s appointee to the lottery commission. Geddings resigned from the commission just before Scientific Games reported they paid him $24,500 last year. Nine thousand was paid after he was named to the commission. Geddings is now under indictment for wire and mail fraud.

On Aug. 7 Black was ordered by a North Carolina court to return $6,800 in contributions to North Carolina optometrists for a practice Black had acknowledged months before. Checks totaling this amount had been given to Black by fellow optometrists with the payee line left blank. Black and another optometrist filled in the payee line before distributing the funds to legislators of their choosing.

The second group of enablers are the contributors to Black’s campaign fund, whose cash on hand was almost $993,000 as of the last reporting period ending June 30. How this money will be used is another big question.

According to the Charlotte Observer, during the 2004 elections Black pumped $600,000 into the N.C. Democratic Party’s fund for state House campaigns. This is further validation that money is the mother’s milk of politics.

This recent contributor’s list makes interesting reading. The North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers gave $4,000, and they were joined by various political action committees too numerous to list here. For the full story go to the Web site of the state Board of elections at www.sboe.state.nc.us/. You will see a contribution by a group, profession, vocation, business or trade well known to you.

They walk among us.

(Kirkwood Callahan has been a professor of political science and an executive in the transportation industry. He is now retired and lives in Waynesville. He lives in Waynesville and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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