For sale?

July 29, 2013 

Well, there’s one thing you have to give the House Republicans and Speaker Thom Tillis. When it comes to “pay for play,” that disgraceful custom of appointing big contributors to important state boards, they’re about as subtle as a tractor-trailer hitting a ‘possum.

For years, Republicans in the General Assembly blasted Democratic members and governors for seeking out appointees for boards and commissions who just happened to be big political supporters of Democrats. As recently as the administration of Gov. Beverly Perdue, no less than then-GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer expressed in high dudgeon his disgust with Perdue’s “pay for play” politics. His then-party spokesman, Jordan Shaw, was likewise proud to say, “That is not how we do business.”

Naturally, when Republicans took over the governorship, and the House and Senate, many North Carolinians figured there would need to be some extra marble shipping in from Italy to craft statues of Tillis as the protector of high-minded ethics in government. Maybe something in a toga with a leafy crown?

To which, the citizens have sadly learned, they might now ask, “Et tu, Thom?”

Fast learner

Tillis picked up quickly on how to peghis political allies and contributors for choice spots on government boards and commissions. A Saturday story in The News & Observer detailed how some hefty contributors, one of them, gasp, a Democrat, managed to land on what is perhaps the state’s most prestigious appointive board: the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

It was earlier reported that three men who gave a total of $70,000 to a super PAC supporting Tillis’ bid for the U.S. Senate landed spots on the board. But one of them, G. A. Sywassink, was initially rejected for the Board of Governors by the Republican caucus because he lives in South Carolina. But then, after the caucus vote but before the final vote on the House’s eight nominees for the BOG, Tillis circulated a list of his preferred candidates. Sywassink made the board.

There appeared to be a few Republicans in the House who weren’t happy about that, but Tillis’s boost carries clout. Besides, Sywassink did fit what apparently was the top criteria for board membership. He is a Republican. And the House GOP had agreed that that all members of the board should be Republicans. Nothing like picking members of such a board with qualifications and expertise in higher education and leadership experience first in mind, eh?

Cash trumps party

But then Doyle Parrish came up. And it turned out Parrish is a Democrat. So was his name immediately nixed, his nominating form burned in the speaker’s trash can?

Nope. Parrish made the cut. Tillis, it seems send a memo to his leadership team explaining he didn’t know Parrish was a Democrat, but he supported him nonetheless. He noted, “I would estimate he is directly responsible for more than $100,000 in financial support through personal contributions to my campaign committee and other candidates...”

In other words: Doyle paid, Doyle plays.

This utterly disgraceful hypocrisy will be something that voters should take into account as Tillis campaigns for the U.S. Senate.

And the sure-to-be-heard claim that “the Democrats did it, too” doesn’t mean much at this point. Republicans campaigned against the Democrats who, yes, did play the game as well. But one of the big reasons that Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative candidates said the Democrats should be banished was because they did...exactly what the Republicans now are doing.

This kind of activity tarnishes the appointments to board seats, and it can’t be favorably viewed by other appointees. It also pegs Tillis not as a courageous reformer, but as just another politician out for the next office and willing to do what it takes to get it.

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