Monday, January 26, 2009

An honest lobbyist

A negative stereotype of legislative lobbyists probably has to do with a oily, fast-talking huckster out to sell a bill of goods to the unwary -- or to those who just want the campaign contributions lobbyists use to raise for them and can still advise their clients where to send contributions.

And then there was Roger Bone, widely regarded as a top lobbyist in the N.C. General Assembly. Bone, who died Sunday at age 69 just two days after his former boss, former Gov. Bob Scott, also died, was not just well liked. He was regarded as an honest man who told legislators the truth.

A lot of lobbyists in Raleigh are regarded as honest, and the best ones tell only the truth.

But it is a mark of who Roger Bone was that people regarded him as an honest person despite the fact he had a federal rap on his record.

Bone, a farm equipment dealer for International Harvester, had been a member of the 1979 and 1981 General Assemblies, but did not seek a third term. One reason may have been that he was about to be charged in a check-kiting scheme that, prosecutors later said, he had engaged in only in an effort to keep his farm equipment business afloat. He made restitution and served five years probation for that offense, then in 1985 worked for then-House Speaker Liston Ramsey before being hired by Scott, by then president of the N.C. Community College system, as a legislative lobbyist.

In time he became a general lobbyist at the legislature, and in the N.C. Center for Public Policy's annual rankings of most influential lobbyists, he moved up this year from among the top three or four to the No. 1 spot. He represented, among other things, hog farmers, nursing homes and tobacco interests.

Bone was also a funny man. David Rice, a former newsman with the Winston-Salem Journal who now works for a Raleigh law firm that provides lobbying services, recalls one of Bone's quips:" 'If you could teach hogs to smoke and then put 'em in rest homes, all my clients would be happy!' I took it as evidence that no matter how much controversy his clients encountered or how ardently they felt about their own causes, Roger never took himself too seriously -- and that humility made him that much more effective both as a lobbyist and as a human being."

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