I recently wrote an article discussing the record of incompetence and the lack of ethical leadership that has plagued Raleigh over the past several years. Included were examples such as the SBI crime lab investigation, the debacle at the Employment Security Commission and at the Department of Revenue, the absence of a meritocratic civil service and laundry list of corrupt politicians who have passed through state government on their way to prison. Integrity seems to be a foreign concept to many of our leaders in Raleigh and the Perdue Campaign Flight Scandal, a story that simply refuses to go away, may yet be another example of what is wrong with Raleigh.
Governor Perdue (D) has refused to discuss the federal probe into her campaign. Her troubles are well chronicled; however, the omission of more than 40 campaign flights on campaign disclosure reports which resulted in a $30,000 civil fine from the Board of Elections has prompted a criminal investigation by both the State Bureau of Investigation and federal prosecutor George Holding. It is surprising that Holding has time to take on another investigation considering former North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and his campaign (D) is still under criminal investigation after being assessed a $100,000 civil fine by the Board of Elections. Former Commissioner of Agriculture Meg Scott Phipps (D) was imprisoned for three years for perjury and obstruction of justice and former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black (D-Mecklenburg) was just released from prison where he served time for corruption charges.
In an acute observation, Englishman Lord Acton said in the 19th century that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Since 1901, Democrats have lived in the governor’s mansion for all but 12 years. Democrats have held the NC House for all but four years since 1896 and the Democrats have held the majority in the NC Senate since 1898. What this history indicates, given the current ethical state of affairs, is that Lord Acton may have been right. Perhaps the lack of competition in Raleigh has given Democrats free reign and allowed absolute power to corrupt. This is not an indictment of Democrats; if the GOP had run North Carolina for 100 years the state may still have suffered corruption.
Through the lens of Lord Acton’s axiom, it may be that political competition and partisanship are the solutions to our ethics problem in Raleigh. A Republican majority in the General Assembly would surely keep a sharp eye on Governor Perdue and vice-versa. Intense political competition among partisans could potentially hold our leaders more accountable. I do not advocate one party over another in this opinion but rather entertain the notion that divided government may serve North Carolina well by helping to resolve our ethical issues.