Raleigh- When the Who sang "Won't Get Fooled Again," they probably weren't thinking about the Charlotte Observer. Reading the Observer's editorial (March 5, 2007) that begins by saying new House Speaker Joe Hackney "has done more to improve election campaigns, regulate lobbyists and raise ethical standards than anyone else in the 120-member House" certainly made me think about the Who's song. I hope the Observer doesn't fool the public into believing Jim Black's corruption was unique or unknown or that Hackney was anything other than Black's loyal follower to the very end.
The editorial particularly reminded me of the closing line to the song, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." The rules debate in the House made it clear to anyone who heard it that the majority of House members have no intention of doing anything substantively different. In their view, the only thing Jim Black did wrong was getting caught. They will try to avoid being exposed by the feds, but they won't change the rules to limit the power that leads to corruption.
Similarly, judging from the press reports of the debate, it seems the chance of malfeasance being reported by the capitol press corpse, absent some outside intervention, is still nil, so the corruption can be expected to continue to grow unless the feds weed it out. (By the way, the use of corpse instead of corps is not a typo. I recently saw a Paul O'Connor article from a few years ago (posted in the press room at the legislature, no less) that used that spelling, and it just seemed appropriate. If, in the future, I call them the press corpse instead of corps, it may not be an accident.)
The Observer's coverage of the rules debate continued their habit of leaving out the information that would permit the public to actually understand what was being debated. For example, they said "Hackney's rules would also eliminate the right of a handful of House members to sit on any committee to help push through legislation." In other words, the new rules eliminate using floaters to ensure the Democratic leaders have enough of a margin to get whatever they want through a committee.
This may be progress, but thanks to Black's malfeasance and Democratic gerrymandering, the Democratic margin in the House is so great that they don't need floaters to get whatever they want through a committee. In other words, they gave up something useless. Big deal.
The Observer did admit that "The changes, written by the Democratic majority with input from Republican leaders, didn't satisfy some GOP members who said the rules fail to prevent a future speaker from having too much power or blocking the will of the majority in the chamber," but by leaving out the details, the complaint sounded weak and partisan. Republican leaders may have provided input, but the Democratic insiders omitted anything that would seriously limit the unbridled power of the Speaker and his buddies.
In fact, it was sad but funny to hear the Republican Minority leader point out that the chief problem with the rules was not that they hinder the minority, but that they are designed to prevent the majority from doing anything contrary to the will of the insiders in leadership positions. He didn't say it, but the public should know that almost without exception (and I can't think of an exception, right off hand), all of the current House leaders were loyal followers of Black until the feds got on his case.
As Stam said, "While one of my jobs is to stand up for the rights of the minority party, my bone to pick with these rules is the way they depreciate the will of the majority." Black had power and he sold it; clearly, leaving so much power in the hands of a few is an invitation to malfeasance. But Black's gang has a new leader, so why make changes?
Several amendments were offered, and if the Democratic leaders had any fear of real reporting in the major papers, they would have accepted at least one because it so clearly exposed the Animal Farm nature of politics in the North Carolina House. (You remember George Orwell's classic, in which all the animals were equal, but some were more equal than others?)
John Blust, who is far more deserving of recognition than Hackney when it comes to real reform, (as opposed to campaign finance reforms designed to increase the power of the press by hampering the ability of others to offer information), offered an amendment that would have required the Speaker to follow the rules in directing the business of the body. All of the members of the Speaker's gang of loyal supporters voted in support of the right of the Speaker to ignore the rules, apparently agreeing that he should be "above the law."
Of course, I don't really see any point in having rules, since they are ignored whenever they get in the way of the will of the Speaker and his friends. Why have rules when they can be ignored at will? The main purpose seems to be to deceive the public into believing all is well when the old adage that "Power corrupts" is so clearly playing out in Raleigh.
Blust was criticized for making his attempt to move the House away from banana republic governance, but he didn't back down. When Democratic leaders suggested Hackney was so wonderful that Blust's rules changes were not needed, Blust said ""If it's going to be real change, then why won't we put it in writing? . . .Why won't we put it in the rules? I'd like to take the gentleman at his word, but let me explain it this way: If you've had a house broken into, and a couple days later, the police caught the person who did it, you wouldn't say, 'Great. Now it won't happen again. Now I can sit back and do what I always did, and my house won't be broken into again.'
"No, you get a dog, you get floodlights, you get deadbolt locks for the doors, you get special locks for the windows, you form a neighborhood watch committee, you get an alarm system. You would do something to put in place some safeguards so that it can't happen again. That's all we're asking for."
In other words, when you catch one member of a gang, it doesn't mean you're safe from the rest of the gang. As a recent NCGOP press release stated, "no high level North Carolina Democrat leader can rightfully take the high ground on corruption since many may have directly or indirectly benefited or in effect turned a "blind eye" to what may have been obvious or accepted behavior to maintain the Democrat Party's corruptive reign of power." Every Democrat in the legislature profited from Black's foul deeds, and so did many Republicans. It is hardly surprising that those who profited from Black's actions want to protect their gains.
It is unfortunate that the press sees no problem with praising those who profited by looking the other way when Black was pulling off the theft of the century and stealing control of the North Carolina House. Of course, I guess telling the truth now would reveal how little truth they've told in the last ten years.