***THE FOLLOWING IS AN EDITORIAL FROM TODAY'S EDITION OF THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER***
Senator's maneuvers reflect rot in politics
Soles should resign now and N.C. Senate should kill his bills.
Posted: Tuesday, May. 25, 2010
It's a long way from the corner of Trade and Tryon to the southeastern N.C. Senate district comprising Columbus, Bladen and Brunswick counties - but a short story of old-boy cronyism practiced there paints a vivid picture of everything that's wrong with Tar Heel politics.
As we know by now, the list often includes entrenched Democrats watching out for their pals and quite willing to bend the rules or spend the public's money to take care of their friends. The public is sick of it. Those in the legislature who condone it ought to be ashamed.
Here's the story: Last week, Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus, dropped two bills in the Senate hopper with blatant political overtones.
One would boost the retirement benefit of his longtime friend, District Attorney Rex Gore, who lost a recent race for the Democratic nomination for re-election and who leaves office at the end of the year. Gore recused himself, properly, from a controversial case last year involving Soles, leaving it to the N.C. attorney general's office to decide whether to pursue charges against Soles in a shooting at his home last year. Soles pleaded guilty in February to a misdemeanor charge of shooting someone. He avoided a felony conviction and remained in the Senate, though he did not run for re-election. He leaves office at the end of this year.
Soles' retirement bill allows either district attorneys or judges to collect their pensions starting at age 62 if they have 20 years of service, reports Joseph Neff of The News & Observer of Raleigh. Under the old rules, DAs and judges can collect their pensions beginning at age 65, or when they accumulate 24 years of service. The bill likely affects only Gore, who is 62 and has 22 years of service. The bill means Gore, who admits he helped write the proposal, wouldn't have to wait three more years, though WWAY-TV reported Monday evening that Gore has now asked Soles to amend the bill so it wouldn't apply to him. A better idea would be to drop it entirely.
The other bill would split, at a cost of $248,000, the three-county prosecutorial district where Soles lives in a way that guarantees the next district attorney in his home county will be a Democrat - and not a Republican who might be less friendly to Soles' interests.
Soles has said he's merely splitting the district to mirror judicial districts. But the political angle is obvious. Gore lost his campaign for the Democratic nomination to Harold "Butch" Pope of Columbus County. Pope faces Republican Jon David of Brunswick County this fall. Soles' proposal splits the 13th prosecutorial district in such a way that if Pope wins, he will serve in a new District 13A comprising Columbus and Bladen counties. The bill urges the governor to name a member of the opposite party to be district attorney in District 13B, comprising Brunswick. But if Republican David wins the race, he would be district attorney in 13B and the governor would be encouraged to name a Democrat in 13A. Thus, unless they're amended or killed outright, Soles' bills would reward a longtime ally and keep his own prosecutorial district in Democratic hands.
Soles' legislation smells bad every way you look at it. It is a reminder of what many people of both parties believe - that some politicians stay in office far too long and accumulate the kind of power it takes to pull off these malodorous stunts.
Two things should happen: The Senate should permanently table these proposals. And Soles, who did the right thing when he announced he would not run again, should again do the right thing and resign from the General Assembly. Today would be none too soon.