Worth pursuing

Published 12:49 pm Friday, July 13, 2007

By Staff
Joe Maveretic, former speaker of the North Carolina House of Representatives, may be on the right track when it comes to limiting how long a legislator may serve in top leadership roles in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Interviewed by telephone during Wednesday’s “Talk of the Town” on Cable 7, Maveretic suggested that a legislator be limited to serving as speaker of the state House to four years. He recommended similar term limits for the president pro tempore of the state Senate.
His reasoning? Being in powerful leadership positions such as House speaker or president pro tempore of the Senate often results in abuse of power and scandals like the one Jim Black, former speaker of the state House, was involved with.
On the same day Maveretic expressed his views about term limits for legislators in the top leadership positions, Black was sentenced to more than 63 months in prison for illegally taking cash from chiropractors while promoting their agenda. Black, 72, also was fined $50,000.
In February, Black pleaded guilty to one count of accepting things of value in connection with the business of state government. The federal charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a $250,000 fine, but sentencing guidelines recommended a shorter term.
Maveretic said the longer a legislator remains in the General Assembly, the more temptations come his or her way. Long-serving legislators are, for the most part, the ones with the leadership posts and committee assignments that give them more power than legislators who have less time in the House or Senate. Because the leaders in the House and Senate have the power, experience and connections to get things done, they become targets for some lobbyists and some special-interest groups who try to persuade the General Assembly’s power brokers to use their influence to benefit the lobbyists’ clients and support the special-interest groups’ agendas, Maveretic said.
In other words, according to Maveretic, powerful legislators are courted by deep-pocket people and organizations seeking to influence legislation, gain special favors and receive special treatment. The longer a legislator remains in a key leadership position, the more that legislator is exposed to and likely to succumb to improper, if not illegal, influences and requests, Maveretic indicated.
The Jim Black affair, the criminal behavior of Meg Scott Phipps and the allegations against former Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green in the early 1980s give credence to Maveretic’s views that someone who remains in power too long becomes easier to corrupt. Phipps, the state’s former commissioner of agriculture, served a prison term for taking a bribe. Green was found guilty of taking thousand of dollars in bribes.
The more powerful the person, the more powerful the temptation. And because politicians are human, giving into those temptations can and does happen.
That’s why limiting a legislator’s exposure to such temptation makes sense. Of course, getting legislators in the General Assembly to agree to limit their power would be a monumental task. But it’s a task that must be accomplished to protect the state and its residents, not to mention legislators themselves.
Perhaps Maveretic, who served as speaker of the House and knows the temptations are there, can be persuaded into leading an effort to limit the terms that legislators serve in top leadership positions. It’s an effort North Carolina residents should get behind.
If those legislators with the most power are limited in their exposure to temptations, perhaps we can save them and heal the state’s reputation. The Jim Black affair left North Carolina with a black eye.
Joe Maveretic’s suggestion may provide the ounce of prevention to prevent a pound of cure.