When the press asked Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand about his dealings with defrocked lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings – Rand had a severe case of amnesia. It appears to be contagious. Now, several other Democratic politicians seem to have suffered a loss of memory.
Now, the newspapers are reporting Rand had more reasons to know Geddings than just the lottery. According to the press, the State Democratic Party paid Geddings “nearly $109,000″ to work on state Senate campaigns. And Lt. Governor Beverly Perdue – who chairs the State Senate – also paid Geddings a whopping $1.5 million during her 2000 campaign.
The News and Observer also reports Geddings has worked with Jay Reiff, Governor Easley’s campaign manager, in campaigns – not Easley’s – and that several members of Easley’s staff knew Geddings was doing radio ads for the NCAE attacking Republicans who opposed the lottery. But when the News and Observer asked Mac McCorkle, one of Governor Easley’s advisors, what he told Easley about Geddings’ ads – McCorkle said that was privileged information.
Privileged information? Is Mr. McCorkle an attorney or a political consultant? Mr. McCorkle added innocently that “he didn’t know they [the ads] had run until last week.”
Think about that. Mr. McCorkle was told they would run last summer. August, the News and Observer reported they were running. But now Mr. McCorkle says he didn’t know they had actually aired. More amnesia?
According to phone records obtained by the N&O, another Easley aide – Scott Anderson – called Geddings forty-six times while Anderson worked in the Governor’s office. Mr. Anderson has now decided – months after the fact – that those were personal calls and he has reimbursed the state. And finally, Easley aide Dan Gerlach, called Geddings twice on September 19, just three days before Geddings was appointed to the lottery commission.
So what does Governor Easley say about all this? Well, at his press conference, the Governor had his own attack of amnesia. The press asked (Winston-Salem Journal, 11-09-05), “When did you first hear the name Kevin Geddings, and what interactions have you had with him and Scientific Games?”
Easley said he knew Geddings was chief of staff to South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges and added, “I did not have a relationship with him like say, a Scott Anderson would.”
Now that’s called an evasion. The Governor told us what kind of relationship he did not have with Geddings. But he told us nothing about the relationship he did have.
And what about Scientific Games? The Governor said: “All the venders pay a courtesy visit…they pay a courtesy visit to our office. And I do remember meeting briefly with Scientific Games.” Then amnesia struck: “I don’t recall who was in the meeting…I met with them as well as others…and I am told that one of the people in the meeting was Alan Middleton…quite honestly I wouldn’t know him if he walked in here now.”
So Senator Tony Rand was ‘fuzzy,’ and Mr. McCorkle ‘didn’t know’, and Mr. Anderson’s calls were ‘personal calls’ and Governor Easley can’t recall who he met with.
Pretty soon, nobody is going to be able to remember whether the lottery passed or not.
Now that Kevin Geddings, Scientific Games hand-picked lottery commissioner, has resigned all’s right with the world and North Carolina can roll on to lottery heaven. Right? Wrong.
The News and Observer just threw a wet blanket over Act II of the lottery. The News and Observer reports “in one of his final acts as a state lottery commissioner, Kevin Geddings helped determine a list of finalists for the most important job at the new state lottery: its director…among the potential candidates are ‘two men in charge of the South Carolina Lottery, which Geddings helped create.”
The two candidates from South Carolina for the top lottery job told the newspapers “they barely know Geddings.” But then it turned out they served on South Carolina Governor Jim Hodges ‘transition team’ with Geddings – who then went on to be Hodges chief of staff.
Did it trouble Lottery Czar Charles Sanders that Geddings may have left a ‘ringer’ behind?
Not at all. Sanders said, “Kevin had virtually zero impact on this.”
No impact? Geddings was one of three commissioners who voted on the nominees.
This one is too good to resist. The Winston-Salem Journal reports the Foundation/Pork-Barrel Fund that gives away North Carolina’s tobacco settlement money (to help those in need) just gave $220,000 to the Sparta Teapot Museum.
You think that’s something? Sit down. Last year the foundation gave the museum $370,000. And on top of that the state legislature gave it another $400,000.
The foundation – its board is appointed by Governor Easley, Senate Leader Marc Basnight and House Leader Jim Black – spent almost as much on teapots – $220,000 – as it spent for scholarships to Community Colleges ($300,000).
That’s what passes for common sense in politics.
My nominee for biggest winner of the week: Mark Warner of Virginia.
No, he wasn’t running. But his lieutenant governor – an anti-death penalty Democrat – was. And he won.
So Warner now moves to the top of the 2008 White House speculation list. He’s smart, articulate, rich and has a proven record in business and as Governor.
But don’t get carried away about Democrats winning two Governor’s races in a row in Virginia. Democrats have won four in row in North Carolina – and none by as close a margin as the Virginia election.
“I’m appalled,” Lottery Commission Chairman Charlie Sanders said, describing his reaction to the revelation Scientific Games, which wants to bid on a lottery contract, paid Kevin Geddings $24,500.
How appalled? Not appalled enough to say that anyone – like Scientific Games – who paid a lottery commissioner $10,000 the day after he was appointed – should be banned from bidding on a contract.
Instead, Mr. Sanders says Scientific Games is “still a potential bidder.”
Here is a simple fact: Scientific Games paid Geddings $10,000 and Geddings kept it a secret. If making payments to a lottery commissioner doesn’t disqualify you from bidding on a contract – what does?
This just gets ‘smellier and smellier.’
There is a simple – but drastic – step the legislature could take to prevent the kind of controversy swirling around North Carolina’s lottery: Ban fundraising (and even entertaining) by lobbyists.
South Carolina already does that. North Carolina now bans lobbyists from making campaign contributions during legislative sessions, but not between sessions.
North Carolina’s legislature passed a law this year that will require lobbyists to start reporting “good will” entertainment expenditures in 2007.
Why not go all the way and ban both contributions and entertainment?
Truth is, a lot of lobbyists would like a blanket prohibition. They privately complain about being hit up by legislators for contributions and fundraising help. But they’re in a position where it’s hard to say no.
In effect, lobbyists become unpaid fundraisers for the politicians. That’s bad government.
The amount of money spent in Raleigh on “good will” entertaining (that’s where, supposedly, no specific legislation is discussed) is enormous. So much that I expect this idea to be vehemently opposed by the city’s finer dining establishments.
Legislators could still have lunch, dinner or drinks with lobbyists. They would just have to pay their own way. They might end up eating and drinking less. That would be not only ethically, but also physically healthier.
We’ve got a good, old-fashioned scandal brewing about the lottery.
Scientific Games is one of the mega-gaming companies that run lotteries. It wants to run the North Carolina lottery and 1) it got language inserted into the Lottery Bill (by an amenable legislator ) apparently, to give it a ‘leg up’ over competitors; 2) it got its own man on the Lottery Commission that awards the contracts; and 3) did it all secretly.
In fact, according to the Raleigh News and Observer, Scientific Games even paid its ‘friend’ on the Lottery Commission, Kevin Geddings, $9,500 the day after he was appointed. And Mr. Geddings didn’t report that money – or another $15,000 he received from Scientific Games – on his ethics report.
Stacking the deck to win the lottery by getting your man on the Commission that awards the contracts has to rank right up there with the “Black Sox Scandal”– ‘fixing’ the 1919 World Series – as one of the most purely brazen maneuvers of all time.
One of the things Scientific Games paid Mr. Geddings $5,000 to do was coach Senator Tony Rand – the Democrat Majority Leader – for a debate on the lottery. When it comes to his role in all this, Senator Tony Rand, the Democrat Majority Leader has had an almost complete case of amnesia.
Senator Rand says he only ‘vaguely’ recalls ever meeting Mr. Geddings. He says his recollections of dealing with Geddings are ‘fuzzy.’ He says Geddings, lobbyist Meredith Norris and ‘maybe’ someone else dropped by his office before that debate – the one paid Geddings to coach Rand for – but it was no big deal. They just sat ‘around shooting the breeze.’ As for Geddings ‘coaching’ him, Rand added, “Oh, hell no, I didn’t need any coaching.” Rand also only ‘vaguely’ remembers having dinner with Geddings after the debate. And he says he didn’t know whom Geddings represented.
Think about that a minute. The Senate Majority Leader, the man who steered the lottery through the Senate, met with three lottery lobbyists and had no idea who they represented?
What’s more, the third man in that meeting with Geddings and Meredith Norris – the one Rand can’t remember his name – appears to be Scientific Games Vice President Alan Middleton, who wrote language that was inserted in the Lottery Bill with the intention of helping Scientific Games. Want to guess who the newspapers report may have put that language in the bill? Tony Rand. (Mr. Geddings also turns out to have been a political consultant to Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue – who cast the deciding vote for the lottery in the Senate).
There’s one other puzzling question here. Where are House and Senate Republicans? They have been strangely silent. And it’s time they started speaking out. Republican legislators should do two things. First, they should call for a bi-partisan House-Senate Investigation. Second, they should demand Scientific Games be banned from bidding.
And if Democrats want to oppose either proposal, let them defend that in the next election.
As Scootergate erupted in Washington, we heard a familiar mantra: “The coverup is worse than the crime.”
I beg to differ.
Prosecutors may find the coverup easier to prove. Politicians might find the coverup easier to use as a bludgeon on their opponents.
But the crime is even worse than the coverup.
The crime in Watergate was that Nixon’s crowd was paying for a sophisticated operation to spy on and disrupt his political opponents.
The “crime” in Monicagate was that Clinton was getting oral sex in the White House from a woman young enough to be his daughter.
The crime in Scootergate – it seems to me – is that the Bush/Cheney crowd was willing to unmask and endanger a covert CIA agent as a way of retaliating against a critic of the Iraq War.
Democrats in Washington want to go two ways:
•Attack Bush’s people for lying to a prosecutor. At least, they wanted to do this until Karl Rove, the Big Enchilada, seemed to skate away from indictment.
•Make the story that Bush, et al lied about WMDs. Problem is, the Democrats swallowed that WMD line, too. They even helped sell it at the time.
Where’s the outrage of supposed patriots when high federal officials apparently conspire among themselves to out a secret intelligence agent – just to get back at somebody who’s criticizing them publicly?
Some might dare call it treason.
Less than a month after he was reelected with no real opposition, Mayor Charles Meeker is giving Republicans an issue to run against him – and other Democrats – on in the next election.
Tomorrow, the City Council is going to vote on building a new Marriott Hotel downtown. Mayor Meeker wants to build that hotel. And he wants taxpayers to give the Marriott a $20 million subsidy to build it.
At the same meeting the Council is going to vote on a second hotel – a Westin Hotel businessmen want to build at Crabtree Valley. That hotel will not cost taxpayers a cent. Not one penny. There is no subsidy. In fact, that hotel will pay the City $1.5 million in taxes and create 150 new jobs. And, according to press, it has the support of neighborhood leaders.
Now, you might think given a choice between voting for a hotel that will cost taxpayers nothing versus a hotel that will cost them $20 million – the Mayor of Raleigh would support the one that’s free. You’d be wrong.
Mayor Meeker is all for the hotel that is going to cost $20 million – and dead-set against the hotel that will cost nothing.
There are two City Council Districts held by Republicans and three held by Democrats in Raleigh. The three also at-large seats, all held by Democrats. My guess is a majority of the voters in every one of these electorates oppose spending $20 million to subsidize a hotel – rather than spending it to build roads or schools. And my guess is that most voters also have no idea where their council members stand on this issue. Republicans’ responsibility – as the loyal opposition – is to have a debate and tell them.
I helped Tom Fetzer when he first ran for Mayor. Back then – just like today – most of the voters in Raleigh were Democrats. A lot of Democrats had to vote for Tom for him to win. They did because he opposed spending $90 million to build a new Convention Center. Not long ago, when Mayor Meeker and the Democrats on the City Council proposed spending $190 million to build a new Convention Center –Republicans, by and large, went along. They didn’t offer voters a choice.
Now the holes dug (according to the News and Observer 16,000 truckloads of dirt have already been hauled away) and construction has started and even though the costs of steel and concrete are already $4.5 million over budget there doesn’t seem to be much way to stop it.
That Marriott Hotel Mayor Meeker wants taxpayers to pay for downtown is going to use steel and concrete too and it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that means its costs are going up too. And it’s a good bet that higher costs mean sooner or later Mayor Meeker may be asking for a bigger subsidy. More than $20 million.
It’s time for Republicans on the City Council to draw the line and offer voters a choice. They should say Yes to the Westin and they should say to the Marriott Hotel folks – if you want to build a new hotel that’s fine – but taxpayers aren’t going to pay for it. No subsidy. Not one penny. If businessmen can build a Westin with no subsidy, you can build a Marriott with no subsidy too. Then the Republican members of the council should make a motion to spend that $20 million on roads, or schools or to hold down taxes and see if Mayor Meeker wants to vote against it.
That’s what the ‘loyal opposition’ is supposed to do. Not go along to get along – but speak out on issues. Republicans can create a real debate on City spending by saying to taxpayers here’s where we stand and here’s where Mayor Meeker stands and here’s what the difference means to you.
Let Mayor Meeker defend spending this $20 million on a hotel – instead of schools or roads – to voters. If he can win that debate, then more power to him. If Republicans win it they may stop that subsidy and save taxpayers $20 million.
Or if Mayor Meeker – and the Democrats – ignore public opinion and pass it anyway, then Republicans have given voters a good reason to vote for change for Mayor and on the City Council in the next election.
Sometimes, something so peculiar happens in politics you just have to stop and ask yourself, “What was that?” Well, something like that has happened in Raleigh.
The Marriott Hotels want a subsidy from taxpayers – $20 million – to build a hotel downtown. At the same time a group of businessmen propose to build a Westin hotel –Raleigh’s first Four-Star Hotel – at Crabtree Valley. The Westin won’t cost taxpayers a penny. In fact, it will pay the city $1.5 million in taxes and create 150 jobs.
You might ask, ‘Do we need both? If businessmen will build a new Westin with their own money is it necessary for taxpayers to spend $20 million to build a Marriott too?’ Or you might ask, ‘Why do we have to subsidize a Marriott at all? If businessmen can build a Westin without a subsidy – why can’t the Marriott?’
Taxpayers subsidizing a hotel is odd. Here’s what’s odder.
Mayor Meeker also says Raleigh needs more money to build roads – the City says it needs $374 million – and if I read the signs right he may be floating a trial balloon about raising taxes or fees or both. There’s no doubt Raleigh needs roads. So, why not just build the Four-Star Westin Hotel at Crabtree Valley and use the $20 million for the hotel downtown to build roads?
For that matter, which is more important, building roads or building a $192 million Convention Center? That $192 million would have paid for half the roads the City needs.
If it sounds like someone has their spending priorities backwards – well, maybe they do.
I would imagine – and this is just a guess – the City Council will be happy to approve building the Westin; there’s not much to be said against a hotel that will pay $1.5 million in taxes a year, create 150 new jobs and which the Dean of the NC State School of Design says is an architectural wonder. And in addition, it’s supported by neighborhood activists.
But here’s a suggestion for the Republicans on the City Council – and Democrats too if they don’t mind an idea offered by a Republican. If the Marriotts (or Paris Hilton either for that matter) want to build a hotel in downtown Raleigh tell them, ‘That’s wonderful.’ But if they ask for a subsidy from taxpayers tell then no.
Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for all – or part – of their hotel. In other words, vote yes to the hotel and no to the subsidy.
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce
don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina
and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican.
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle
between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary,
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005.
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
Order The Book
Purchase Carter's Book:
Spirits of the Air