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Ford: In character audit, GOP disappoints

October 28, 2012 

Since we all have our share of imperfections, it can be awkward to go passing judgment on other people’s character flaws. “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” about sums it up.

But when the issue is character within a political context, the ground rules undergo a shift.

Nobody is forced to enter the world of politics, to seek election, to hold himself or herself out as a suitable leader.

Without some among us willing to enter that arena, our representative democracy would be in sorry shape. Once a person is brave enough to climb through the ropes, however, the public has a right to gauge that person’s character – a catch-all quality that boils down to a penchant for good and selfless conduct – as a measure of fitness for office.

Many Democrats have been found wanting in that regard – John Edwards stands out as a recent example, although he managed to keep his character meltdown concealed until after his presidential campaign had withered. Democratic House Speaker Jim Black drew a federal prison term a few years back for his descent into corruption. More to the timely point is the character train wreck that has embarrassed the N.C. Republican Party and its Wake County branch.

Debra Goldman, first-term Wake school board member and the GOP’s candidate for the sensitive post of state auditor, is said by fellow school board member and Republican legislative hopeful Chris Malone to have been involved with him in a relationship that became physical and “very heated.”

Goldman basically denies having an affair, although Ron Margiotta, the Republican former school board chairman, says a relationship between the two “seemed to be common knowledge.”

Both Malone and Goldman are married; Goldman and her husband are now separated.

The bizarre twist that first put the story on our front page a week ago – after our news department was clued in by an unknown source – was Goldman accusing Malone of burglarizing her house in 2010. The fallout “certainly had an impact” on the school board, said Margiotta. “I can’t tell you how much time was spent dealing with them,” he told The N&O.

Police investigated the burglary, but made no charges. They’re now taking another look, presumably with an eye toward whether Goldman’s burglary report – not followed by an insurance claim – was legitimate.

A common-sense question: What was Goldman doing with $20,000 in cash hidden away in a backpack at her house – money that was stolen, she claimed, along with $100,000 worth of jewelry plus $10,000 in collectible coins? She said she decided to keep the cash on hand after having trouble getting money out of a bank in the aftermath of 9/11. Uh, really?

This scenario is not a confidence-builder for someone who wants to be in charge of auditing state government’s books.

Here’s what is bothersome in a larger sense. Goldman, with no credible qualifications (her degree from Penn State is in advertising and marketing, and she lists certification as a firefighter), files to run for state auditor. Party chieftains apparently don’t say boo.

When she comes in first in the May primary but without a big enough margin to avoid a possible runoff, out-of-state GOP consultants discourage runner-up Greg Dority from calling for a runoff. They’re concerned that to have a chance he would have to attack her on character issues, which anyway he doesn’t want to do. At least that’s Dority’s account, as reported by this newspaper.

There’s been back-pedaling in GOP circles from Goldman’s candidacy. She was uninvited from some group campaign events. And Pat McCrory, the party’s nominee for governor, virtually endorsed Democratic incumbent auditor Beth Wood with the compliments he paid her during a TV debate last Monday.

Yet state party chairman Robin Hayes still was saying the best choice for voters is straight-ticket Republican. It’s easy to see why he wouldn’t want people to take the trouble to avoid voting for Goldman. They’d have to select individual candidates up and down the ballot, and there might be some other GOP candidates who wouldn’t get the expected straight-ticket boost.

But we have to ask: How cynical is that? Debra Goldman is plainly unsuited to be state auditor. As Wood says, she was unqualified even before the business with Malone and the purported burglary came to light. Is the Republican Party willing to take a chance that she might be elected just to save a few votes for its other candidates? That’s how it looks.

From its torrents of nasty, out-of-context ads to its willingness to tolerate Goldman’s absurd candidacy for a key post, the GOP this election cycle has shown that what it wants is to win, even at all costs.

Its contempt for the public interest is so thick you couldn’t cut it with a machete. The party collectively seems character-deficient. If Robin Hayes doesn’t like that verdict, he can follow McCrory’s lead and sing the praises of Beth Wood. And he can apologize for foisting a candidate as unsuitable as Goldman on the public.

Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-829-4512 or at steve.ford@newsobserver.com.

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