Morgan: Decker Scandal a Surprise
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Decker admitted Tuesday that he switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat three years ago in exchange for $50,000 he said he received from an unnamed Democrat.
That party switch created a partisan deadlock in the N.C. House of Representatives, which ultimately resulted in the election of Moore County Republican Morgan and Rep. Jim Black, a Charlotte Democrat, as co-speakers.
Now speaker pro tem, Morgan says he does not believe that Black, now speaker, had any part in the Decker controversy. And Morgan denies "absolutely" that he played any role at all in the whole flap.
"Yes, I see the newspapers," Morgan said. "If it is true that a representative of the House was for sale, then it's a terrible reflection on the institution of the House. I don't know what the truth is."
In a telephone interview Wednes-day, Morgan said he expects the truth to emerge eventually and at that time the public will know who's telling the truth and who isn't.
"It would break my heart, and I do not believe that Speaker Black would have any part in any kind of quid pro quo," Morgan said. "Speaker Black is a man that stood by me, and I stood by him under very difficult circumstances and very difficult financial times in the state.
"We decided to work together and to put the state first. We tried to make public policy a priority. It was such a well-run session and forged an alliance that had Republicans and Democrats throughout the House working together."
There has been little mention of Morgan this week in news reports of Decker's admission of conspiracy, mail fraud and money laundering charges in federal court.
However, it was the unprecedented and unexpected action by Decker that enabled Morgan to be elected co-speaker of the House in 2003. Decker, 61, a Forsyth County Republican, abruptly changed his party affiliation to the Democratic Party early in the 2003 session of the General Assembly.
Decker switched back to the GOP a few months later, but the damage was done. He lost his bid for re-election in his heavily Republican district in Forsyth County.
Democrats were back in the majority last year, and Black was easily re-elected as speaker. House members accepted Morgan as their speaker pro tem, duties of which he filled on occasion in the 2005 session and again for the short session this year.
Morgan has been the target of fellow Republicans, including the state party leadership, and his opponents succeeded in toppling him in the May primary election.
Thus Morgan will not be returning to the House next year, but he was recognized with a standing ovation when he made a farewell appearance with the gavel in the last days of the session last week.
Morgan admits that he was moved by the warmth of that response and the apparent sincerity expressed by representatives from both parties. But he insists that he knows nothing of the exchange of money that appears to have encouraged Decker to switch party affiliation to effect Black's reelection as speaker of the House.
Morgan says he does not know the name of the person who met with Decker at a Salisbury pancake restaurant three years ago to develop a plan to bring about Black's continuing leadership in the House. News accounts are describing the person who met with Decker as "an unidentified Democrat." An unidentified Republican is also mentioned as being at the pancake house meeting.
However, Morgan says he does not know the identities of the two lawmakers.
"What Decker admitted, I don't think he speaks for Speaker Black," Morgan said. "I still believe in this great free world where you are innocent until proved guilty."
Morgan, who has served in the legislature since 1991, says numerous motivations and factors are involved in the controversy. He says he deplores the attitude of certain individuals who are expressing so much glee over Decker's downfall and the problems that other people encounter.
"People looking forward to the political demise of someone who may lose their freedom are some of the sorriest scum on earth," Morgan said.
Tangled With Decker
Asked directly if he was present at the pancake house tryst in Salisbury, Morgan replied: "Absolutely not."
In fact, Morgan says he is not and never has been a friend of Decker and that they rarely had cause to work together while both served in the House. Decker had served 10 terms in the House when he was defeated two years ago.
"I had and have no knowledge of any dealings with Decker," Morgan said. "I was as surprised as anyone when Mike Decker changed his party registration from Republican to Democrat."
Morgan recalled an incident early in his own House experience when he underwent a stern dressing-down from Decker, known as a far-right conservative. Morgan said he was a freshman at the time and was startled when Decker sharply scolded him for his vote on a social issue. As it turned out, Decker had mistaken him for the legislator with whom he shared a desk on the House floor, whereas, in fact, Morgan had voted with Decker on that particular issue. Morgan says he responded by telling Decker never to address him in that fashion again.
"No one was more surprised than I was when he changed parties," Morgan said.
The charges against Decker in federal court cover the accusation that Decker accepted $50,000 in the form of campaign money and a legislative job for his son in exchange for his switch to the Democratic Party in 2003.
Decker pleaded guilty to the charges, including conspiracy in which he deprived the public of honest services by engaging in extortion.
Decker entered his plea in a Raleigh courtroom Tuesday. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 1, when he faces a possible five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
The former civics and history teacher in a Christian academy apparently has encountered economic setbacks in recent years. Reports indicate that he has had difficulty finding full-time employment, and his defeat at the polls in 2004 was yet another setback.
Black came in for heavy criticism last year when he tried to help Decker out by finding a job for him with the state Department of Cultural Resources. The temporary position paid $45,000.
The collaboration between Decker and the Democrats was regarded as odd because of widely differing ideologies. Decker is known to have focused on such social issues as abortion and prayer in the schools, issues that are not priorities in the Democratic platform.
Since that time, Black has faced additional controversy ranging from questions about campaign contributions to issues arising from an unpaid political advisor who also worked as a lobbyist for the lottery industry.
As a result of that controversy, the legislature this year passed several bills addressing campaign finance, lobbying and ethics issues.
No charges have been lodged against Black.
You can reach Senior Writer Florence Gilkeson at (910) 947-4962 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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