Every four years we see the same phenomenon in The Tar Heel State: a gaggle of GOP gubernatorial wannabees, followed by a bunch of also-rans lower down the ticket for Council of State races. North Carolina has one of the weakest governors in the United States, yet the race always draws a crowd. Yet, important races — like Attorney General — frequently are an after-thought to the state GOP.
The Attorney General’s office has an AMAZING amount of influence in matters relating to the administration and enforcement of state law. The Attorney General also oversees the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), which investigates political corruption and other high-profile cases.
Republicans in Raleigh complain a lot about political corruption. But when an opportunity to drive corruption probes comes around every four years, NCGOP typically tucks tail and runs.
Here are my thoughts on how to approach the AG race:
1) Believe it or not, Roy Cooper CAN be beat. In the wake of the Duke lacrosse case, the political chattering classes told us that Cooper was invincible. If you remember, Cooper didn’t show his face or say a word until it was CRYSTAL CLEAR that the media and public opinion were against Mike Nifong.
(Cooper was utilizing the ol’ finger-in-the-wind method of decision making. A real profile in courage.) He’s been like that in other high-profile cases, like Mike Easley, John Edwards and Tarnished Badge — a corruption probe that saw the Robeson County sheriff and about 1/3 of his team get convicted in federal court. Roy was always there, at the final press conference, saying “Yeah, me too.” Would we have seen ANY of those probes without George W. Bush in The White House or Frank Whitney or George Holding in the U.S. Attorney’s office?
2) Clean up the SBI. Cooper is responsible for the SBI, which has seen a lot of bad publicity recently about bungling in its crime lab. An old friend of mine, who did a tour of duty as an SBI special agent, once told me that comparing the SBI to Hitler’s Gestapo or the Soviet KGB are not too far-fetched:
The SBI is definitely a political police force. There are lot of dedicated, hard-working honest agents in the ranks who try to maintain their integrity and the integrity of their investigations. Unfortunately, you have a lot of political hacks in the bureau’s leadership and the AG’s office who make that task tough. If a Raleigh politico in the same party as the AG wants an SBI investigation slowed down or killed, or to have one started up against a political opponent, it’s a done deal.
In 1995, I broke a story about an aide to Jim Hunt shaking down state employees and potential state employees for contributions to Hunt’s 1996 reelection campaign. The day the story hit the paper, I was in the state board of elections office doing research. I witnessed two SBI agents come in and demand the campaign finance records for former NC Governor Jim Martin, a Republican who served from 1984 to 1992. (Mike Easley was AG at the time of this incident.) I called SBI Director Jim Coman to ask if there was any connection to my story on Hunt’s aide and THIS SBI action. Of course, Coman said the Martin request had to do with ANOTHER unrelated SBI probe. (Never heard any news about this OTHER probe involving Martin’s records. Interesting timing, though.)
3) Tie Ol’ Roy to BarryO. Cooper has been spending a lot of time around 1600 Penn in DC. Cooper recently took a high-profile role in lobbying for the creation of this new, nazi-like business harrassment agency operating under the guise of “consumer protection.” I’d run plenty of ads featuring video of Cooper with BarryO, and of Cooper praising BarryO policies. In this environment, being tied to Barry or Bev is a KILLER.
Of course, we need a quality GOP candidate to face Cooper. George Holding has already won a straw poll for the AG race. Unfortunately, Holding is part of the crowd running for the reconfigured 13th Congressional District. Holding has the name ID and the finances to make the AG’s race interesting. Dan Barrett, the attorney some Tea Partiers are touting as a challenger to McCrory, might be an interesting choice. There may be others. The point is: Let’s stop leaving this race to GOP attorneys looking for name ID to boost their private practices or their future campaigns for judgeships.
The AG’s race typically depends on coattails from the governor’s race. McCrory has made it clear — in Charlotte and in his 2008 gubernatorial bid — that he has no coattails. He DOES not fire up the base or drive up turnout. NCGOP needs to work on that with him, or find us someone who CAN light fire under the voters.