Friday, March 25, 2011

The Senate Skulker and nickel bags of weed

Tongues were wagging in Raleigh this week as legislators and staff alike wondered who it was who placed material on senators' desks that sharply criticized former Gov. W.W. Holden -- the first governor in America to be impeached, convicted and removed from office -- and at least temporarily foiled a bipartisan plan to pardon Holden for his crimes. Holden has sought to counter violence by the Ku Klux Klan and had ordered the arrest of a number of people he held responsible.  The House in 1971 1871 impeached Holden for high crimes and misdemeanors and the Senate convicted and removed him from office. LINK HERE

Three state senators -- including Republican Sen. Neal Hunt and Democratic Sen. Dan Blue, both of Raleigh, plus Sen. Doug Berger, a Democrat from Franklin county -- were sponsoring the bill to pardon him

But the plan fell apart and the bill was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee after someone broke Senate rules and left material criticizing Holden and the pardon attempt on Senators desks.   Mark Binker of the Greensboro News Record traced the material to a blogger, but who got into the Senate to distribute the information now one knows. WRAL's Laura Leslie has more on the mystery, too. A Senate security camera was on the blink and does not show who it might have been. 
The Senate rule against leaving material on senator's desks is a curious one. I found out about it back in the 1980s when, as editor of North Carolina Insight magazine at the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, I thought it would be helpful to legislators to have a copy of some research we had done on a pressing legislative issue. It might have been prison policy but I don't recall.  Our plan was to put a copy of the magazine on each senator's desk in the Senate chamber, but we quickly found out about the legislative rules against that -- and why.

I'll say at the outset this story may be apocryphal.  Gerry Cohen, a legislative staffer who has been there very nearly forever, says he had never heard it before. And Gerry hears quite a lot, so maybe someone was pulling our legs.

But according to the story we were told by legislative staffers in the clerk's offices maybe 25 year ago, the rule was adopted in the 1970s when there was a bill  to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. And some supporters of that proposal had thoughtfully prepared cellophane bags with a small amount of marijuana in them, and place one on each legislators' desk.   When word got around, many lawmakers feared the public would perceive that as lawmakers possessing marijuana, and, the story goes, a rule against putting materials on desks was quickly adopted.


blpadge2 said...

If you want to look for who scuttled the attempted rehabilitation of W.W. Holden, look no further than the NC Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans. Holden has long been the division's whipping boy for the evils of Reconstruction and a name label for any modern soul who victimizes Confederate "heritage".

It is ironic that most of the current members of the SCV are members of the party of Lincoln today, and it is Democrats trying to restore Holden's name. Guess that is why most local RINO's call there celebratory dinners Lincoln-REAGAN day dinners.

Stephen said...

Jack, you have a typo - I think the impeachment happened in 1871, not 1971.