Veteran legislator Rep. Stephen LaRoque can be combative at times. But last week at a news conference on his home turf, the Kinston Republican calmly and politely (for the most part) answered questions for well over an hour. He had invited reporters and local residents to hear his defense of his two nonprofits, which make loans with federal money to small businesses. An N.C. Policy Watch investigation found he made loans to associates, had relatives on the Board of Directors and paid himself as much as $195,000 a year.
Since he had everyone's attention, LaRoque also used the occasion to settle old scores. He trashed a former board member who had made critical comments about the nonprofits' management in the NCPW story. LaRoque said the man left the board because he wanted to apply for a loan, on which he was now delinquent.
Back in May, LaRoque was the butt of negative national media attention after an angry email exchange with an unemployed woman led him to offer her $8 an hour to do yardwork at his house. The woman showed up and collected the money - didn't work too hard, according to LaRoque. But, he said Tuesday, two jobless men did clear his yard of downed trees and debris. One now has a full-time job, and the other started a business with a loan from LaRoque.
And, killing two birds with one stone, LaRoque went after NCPW and his nemesis, the Rev. William Barber of the state NAACP. He said he's been investigating the N.C. Justice Center, which operates Policy Watch, and says it is operating outside its nonprofit status by getting involved in politics.
LaRoque contends the group went after him because he called Barber, who serves on its board, a racist.
LaRoque stood by his remark Tuesday, saying Barber had called the General Assembly "lily white" and referred to conservatives as racists. "Why would you have somebody like that on your board?" LaRoque said. "I wouldn't. I'd ask him to leave."
Policy Watch reported that House Speaker Thom Tillis made an appearance Thursday in Kinston, part of his statewide tour, and afterward said that he was monitoring the controversy around LaRoque.
One of his nonprofits loaned $101,250 to Sen. Debbie Clary, a longtime political ally, for her marketing and public relations firm in Shelby, and $150,000 to Rep. Mark Hilton's property management company so that it could buy more than three dozen mobile homes in Catawba County.
Same-sex marriage vigil
Gay-rights supporters plan a vigil behind the Legislative Building for Sept. 13, when lawmakers will be in Raleigh to consider a proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
On Sept. 12, vigils will be held in the Triangle and across the state, gay-rights group Equality N.C. said.
Same-sex marriages are illegal in North Carolina, but opponents want to write the ban into the state constitution. Three-fifths of the members of both the House and Senate must vote in favor of putting the question on a ballot. A simple majority of voters is needed to pass it.
About 30 other states have constitutional bans on same-sex marriage.
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