SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Sanders Set Strong Standard
Plenty went wrong with the start of the North Carolina lottery.
One thing that didn't was Gov. Mike Easley's choice for the first chairman of the state's lottery commission, former Glaxo Inc. CEO Charles Sanders.
Sanders stepped down from the commission last month, after fulfilling what he said was a pledge to stay in the post for one year.
Given the lottery's shaky start -- the appointment of a former lottery firm consultant, Kevin Geddings, who resigned following revelations that he hadn't disclosed his recent involvement with the firm; the criminal investigation and indictment that followed; the resignation of two other initial appointees to the commission -- it's easy to envision worse outcomes if Sanders hadn't been chosen to head the group.
But then, he was hardly the typical government appointee.
In fact, Sanders, whose previous involvement with politics had been an unsuccessful run for U.S. Senate in 1996, wasn't even a fan of the lottery.
Upon announcing his decision to step down from the commission, the 74-year-old said he continues to question the lottery as a revenue source. Specifically, he said local government leaders may be expecting too much from the games and that some people who have little in discretionary income may be spending money on the tickets that they can't afford.
Sanders, though, said it was never his job to second-guess the decision to put the lottery in place. His job was to make it work, and to help the commission hire the best director possible.
That hire, former New Mexico lottery director Tom Shaheen, brought additional scrutiny to the commission. It agreed to pay Shaheen $235,000 a year, a figure roughly double the salary of the governor.
But Sanders didn't flinch when asked about the salary, before or after Shaheen's hiring. He said all along that hiring an experienced director would require a lot of money, and that he fully expected to be criticized when the decision was made.
But it was that kind of candor, a quality often missing from those in top political posts, and a calmness under fire that made Sanders the right man for a tough job.
This is the man, after all, who once said of Geddings: "I don't understand how people like that get up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror, quite honestly."
Or, a few months earlier: "In retrospect, I believe he lied to my face."
So much for mealy-mouthed talk about the courts doing their job, innocent until proven guilty, or the like. Regardless of legal innocence or guilt, Sanders saw moral failure in the actions that played out surrounding Geddings' appointment and subsequent resignation.
Perhaps not even Sanders himself could answer whether this kind of candor reflects his relative lack of political experience, generational change, individual character or some combination of each.
Whatever the case, he set an example that his colleagues on the lottery commission and those in other top political jobs would do well to emulate.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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