SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Black Does Dirty Work; Dems are 'Shocked'
Former Rep. Michael Decker, the Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican whose party switch threw the state House into a 60-60 deadlock in 2002, had just pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge in connection with his vote to keep Jim Black as the chamber's speaker.
Faison, an Orange County Democrat, told The Charlotte Observer that anyone involved should be "ferreted out and removed."
Rep. Drew Saunders, a Mecklenburg County Democrat and longtime Black ally, said he would be "astonished" if Black was the unnamed House Democrat who met Decker in early 2003 and, according to Decker's plea agreement, handed him $38,000 in campaign checks and $12,000 in cash in exchange for his vote.
Shocked? Astonished? What planet have these guys been hanging out on?
No one who spent any time inside the Legislative Building this year, or paid any attention to State Board of Elections hearings last winter, should be surprised that Decker faces federal charges or that he has now turned on Black.
As for who met Decker, Black has already acknowledged a meeting with Decker at a Salisbury IHOP around the time of the 2003 speaker vote. He has already admitted to helping Decker raise campaign money.
And published accounts made clear that Decker took in large sums of campaign money from donors tied to Black, legally converting much of it to personal use both before and after losing an election whose outcome was decided the moment he agreed to the party switch.
Would anyone other than Black have given Decker an envelope of campaign checks?
But here come the House Democrats, shocked and astonished that an arrangement seen as fishy by most legislative insiders has been deemed criminal by the feds.
Black, of course, has said and will continue to say that he never made any specific promises to Decker in exchange for his vote. Added his lawyer, Ken Bell: "This would not be the first time someone got in trouble and made up stories about someone else to try to get out of it."
But when it comes to ferreting out and removing anyone involved, it might not lead to the result envisioned by Faison.
After all, all House Democrats were involved.
Whether or not his agreement with Decker crossed any legal lines, Black's decision to strike a deal with an unprincipled, greedy GOP backbencher benefited them all. It kept both him and them in power, in control of the chamber.
Raising millions of dollars, some of it from unsavory sources like video poker, Black did their dirty work. He poured that money into their districts, not his own.
So play dumb, Mr. Faison. Shut your eyes, Mr. Saunders. Let your leader sully himself. Let him take the fall. With the lure of power dangling, someone will always be willing.
And you can avoid the meaningful reforms that would diffuse that power and make each legislator responsible for raising his or her own campaign money.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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