Some days you have to laugh to keep from crying. I’ve finally found out why the Legislative Ethics Committee dismissed my complaint against Pryor Gibson. They do not believe telling a lie is unethical. It is just a procedural matter.
In 2006, Pryor Gibson wanted to introduce a bill that was not eligible for consideration unless he signed a document verifying that his bill had the unanimous support of the other representatives from the area affected by the bill. They did not support the bill. Gibson lied in writing and said they did in order to get a bill passed that could not have been introduced if he told the truth.
The bill was not an insignificant matter. It moved the date of the vote on the Monroe food tax from the general election in 2006 when Gibson was running for re-election to the lower turnout municipal election in 2007. It also granted ETJ to two towns, Wingate and Marshville, that had not even made a public request for it. The bill gave town officials the authority to decide the zoning for people who lived in the county and could not vote for or against them. It affected the property rights of hundreds of people.
When I challenged Gibson’s lie by filing a complaint, the Legislative Ethics Committee dismissed the complaint, saying “the complaint alleged conduct, that even if true, would not constitute an ethics violation, or alleged conduct, that even if true, would not be within the jurisdiction of the Committee.”
It was my understanding that since the fraud was committed in 2006, the committee dismissed the complaint because it did not believe it should go into events that happened before 2007 when the current law became effective. If they truly believed actions prior to 2007 were a closed book, so be it.
But if that was the standard, how could they ask the House to hold hearings designed to lead to the expulsion of Thomas Wright based on even older events? Mr. Wright and I were hardly friends . . . he was a friend of Jim Black and I was the only member of the 2001 House who never voted for Black . . .plus he was a Democrat and I’m a Republican, but the way he was being treated just didn’t make sense.
In my experience, far greater misdeeds than any alleged against Wright were normally ignored. While I did not see his treatment as racially motivated . . .after all, misuse of non-profits by several other black legislators didn’t result in expulsion attempts. . . the fact that my complaint against Gibson was dismissed because the event was pre-2007 while events even older were being used to justify Wright’s House ethics hearing just didn’t seem right.
I approached Wright’s attorney, Irv Joyner, at Wright’s court hearing last Thursday with some hesitation. I had no desire to be seen as defending illegal behavior and some reluctance to even be involved in something with so much negative press, but the double standard being applied in the legislature offended me. In addition to giving Joyner a copy of the dismissal of the complaint I filed against Gibson, I informed him of the November 2002 Carolina Journal article outlining several other ethical issues concerning Gibson.
If the committee didn’t have jurisdiction to deal with my complaint against Gibson, I didn’t understand how they could be dealing with far older issues with respect to Wright.
Moreover, the Carolina Journal article stated that Gibson had a non-profit that seemed far more dubious than Wright’s, but to the best of my knowledge, no one ever followed up on the questions raised by the Carolina Journal. Why the double standard?
I later learned that Wright had supported the Republican NC Senate candidate from Wilmington in 2006 rather than the Democrat, and suddenly the reason for the double standard seemed very obvious. The Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, plus the Governor, needed someone to toss to the wolves to divert the public from the bribery and gerrymandering that kept them in power, the sale of DOT board seats, the mental health malfeasance, and a litany of other misdeeds.
By going after Wright, the leaders could sell the public on how serious they are about ethics without actually doing anything to reform the system. At the same time, they could show other legislators how dangerous it would be to cross the party big wigs. A twofer!
In 1998, my opponent used last minute ads that misrepresented my vote against the 1997 budget in order to defeat me. He and Speaker Black later used what happened to me to threaten other legislators; vote as you’re told on the budget or we’ll do to you what we did to Shubert. In my case, the threat lost a lot of steam when I returned to the legislature in 2000, but I see some of the same motivation behind the hearings now being held.
Note, I see nothing wrong with a criminal prosecution of criminal misdeeds. I think we need a lot more legislative attention to ethics; but to hold hearings on Wright while ignoring far greater ethical lapses by other legislators is just plain wrong.
Speaking of wrong, according to an article in The Charlotte Observer (March 4, 2008), committee chairman Rick Glazier “said that Gibson's and Wright's cases are so different that any comparison is profoundly absurd. One involves legislative procedure, he said, and the other involves allegations of fraud and corruption.”
What is fraud? According to Wikipedia, “In the broadest sense, a fraud is a deception made for personal gain.” A lie in writing is certainly a deception, and there is no doubt that Gibson lied in writing for his personal benefit, to gain a political advantage he could not otherwise obtain. I didn’t just accuse Gibson of breaking a rule; I provided the evidence to prove he committed fraud on the people of North Carolina.
Mr. Gibson has tried to trick the House before to get a bill passed that would not pass without deception, but I exposed the trick in time and the bill was voted down. This time, the lie was told in a printed document, and even though it was exposed before the bill passed, the leaders of the legislature made the conscious decision to support Gibson’s dishonesty.
Gibson tells people he withdrew the bill when he learned the legislators he said supported it did not, but that’s another deception. Ask Gibson how the contents of the bill became law if he dropped the issue when he learned of their objection?
Gibson’s case involves the corruption not only of Gibson but of the leaders of the House and Senate. The fraud Gibson committed was embraced by the very people who are now eagerly condemning Wright for deceit.
I regret that Wright’s attorneys suggested Mr. Glazier is racially biased; I do not believe he is. But I understand why they came to that conclusion. Anyone unfamiliar with the history of the legislature, who is familiar with North Carolina history, would easily see racism in the totally disparate treatment of Gibson and Wright.
People unfamiliar with the legislature would find it hard to believe that telling a lie to deceive the legislature into acting in a way it would not if it knew the truth is a mere procedural matter.
To people not tainted by “legislative ethics,” telling a lie to the legislature to subvert our very government is a far more significant ethical transgression than anything of which Representative Wright stands accused.
The explanation of the dismissal of the complaint against Gibson makes the phrase “legislative ethics” an oxymoron.