Voters in his district, Cabarrus County and other areas north of Charlotte, must be satisfied with Republican state Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, their representative for over 24 years now. They are the ultimate judges of how he’s doing and whether he deserves yet another term.
Like many members of the General Assembly, Hartsell has to make a living. And like 32 of his colleagues in the House and Senate, he’s a lawyer, though not all of those attorneys are practicing.
As long as North Carolina has a “citizen legislature,” meaning one paying relatively small compensation ($13,000 and change, plus expenses and per diem allowances), there will be questions about whether a lawmaker’s profession conflicts with his or her service on Jones Street.
Hartsell isn’t the first legislator to come under scrutiny about potential conflicts. But his representation, as a lawyer, of a charter school company and his association with a charter management company raise justifiable questions, particularly at a time when GOP lawmakers are pushing charters.
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Hartsell also has worked with a company that’s pushing online charter schools. Last year’s budget included a provision mandating pilot projects for two virtual charter schools. Hartsell also sued the state Board of Education after it said it wouldn’t consider applications for online charters. He now says he’ll back away from his work with a company pushing virtual education.
Hartsell isn’t the only lawyer-legislator who has to be careful about conflicts. House Speaker Tim Moore, a lawyer from Kings Mountain, represented an investor who wanted to establish a casino in Cleveland County, Moore’s home. He did tell his colleagues about it and didn’t participate in discussions.
It would be naive of lawmakers, or of those they represent in the legislature, to think that some of their legal clients don’t come to them because of interests they might have in the General Assembly. But they must fully disclose all contacts, even beyond the minimum expected, and they should tell prospective clients that’s exactly what they’re going to do.