Monday, April 30, 2007

Decker, Black and the N.C. lottery

For a while it seemed former Rep. Michael Decker might just get a couple of years prison time and perhaps no fine for his role in launching the scheme that kept Speaker Jim Black in power two more terms. It thwarted the 2003 election for N.C. House and then unraveled in North Carolina’s worst political scandal in modern times.
But U.S. District Judge James Dever would have none of the coddling that many believed would be Decker’s sentence for volunteering to be bribed into leaving his Republican Party, becoming a Democrat, throwing the House into a tie at 60-60 and allowed Black to fashion a power-sharing arrangement in the 2003 General Assembly with a handful of Republicans.
Dever lowered the boom on Decker by giving him four years in prison, levying a $50,000 fine and sending a message to public officials: Obey the law or else.
What Black and Decker did wasn’t just outmaneuvering their adversaries in a clever political scheme. They stole an election that should have put Republicans in power in 2003-04 in the House. Instead the scheme allowed Black to be co-speaker with Republican Richard Morgan one term and then win the speakership outright in the 2005-06 session.
Everything would have been much different. Legislators lately have worked to undo some of the things that passed under Black – bills requiring eye exams for entering kindergartners, which appeared to help his fellow optometrists; barring insurance companies from charging more for copayments for chiropractor visits than to physicians; setting up a commission to dispose of state property.

But the big one is the state lottery. We wouldn’t have it without Decker’s offer to be bribed and Black’s retail purchase of Decker’s services. Because in the 2003 session that Republicans should have controlled, Democrats and some Republicans cooperated on a new redistricting plan that, in the 2004 House election, resulted in the Democrats winning the House outright, 63-57.
And that was enough of a margin the next year for Black to squeeze the lottery through the House on a 62-58 vote in April 2005.A handful of Repulbicans and most Democrats voted for it. The Senate later narrowly passed the lottery when two Republicans were conveniently absent and Gov. Beverly Perdue cast a tie-breaking vote. It took Democrats and Republicans to adopt a lottery, but mostly it took Democrats.
Had the Republicans redistricted the House in 2003, they might have solidified control of the House in 2005. Or even if the Democrats had somehow won the House back in 2005, there might well have been a new speaker who didn’t have Jim Black’s considerable power to eke out a lottery victory for Gov. Mike Easley.

The lost opportunity still angers many Republicans.
As one Charlotte reader put it in an email:
“Folks, where is the justice for NC’s citizens in this criminal enterprise? Judge Dever admits this Black and Decker resulted in some legislation that might never have been passed without the conspiracy. So, why is the redistricting, that was a direct result of this conspiracy- considered as legitimate?
“Doesn’t justice demand a reversal of the gerrymandering that assured Democrats would remain in control? The Republicans, in a fair race had won the majority, if only by one, but now, if the past has taught us anything, the Republicans and their constituents will have little voice in state government.
“Is this what justice is today?”

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