Raleigh, N.C. — Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton outlined his plan to make state government more transparent and ethical this afternoon. The Democrat sent out a three-page list of ideas he would pursue if elected governor over Republican Pat McCrory.
This kind of pitch has become standard practice for gubernatorial campaigns, especially since former Gov. Mike Easley and former House Speaker Jim Black, both Democrats, wound up facing criminal charges over their campaigns for office.
McCrory hasn't yet offered a detailed ethics plan, although says this on his website:
"The good ol’ boy and girl patronage system of state government has placed tired and failed policies and special interests ahead of working families, taxpayers and businesses. The result: North Carolina is losing to the competition and now has the fourth highest unemployment rate in the country. Pat McCrory believes fixing North Carolina’s broken economy requires new vision and new leadership from its governor. If other states can successfully rebound from the economic collapse, so can the greatest state in the country."
Dalton is far more specific, laying out a series of policy changes that might resonate with anyone who has followed the news. For example:
- "Increasing the “cooling off” period for former lawmakers and top officials. We’ve made strides in putting limits on the revolving door between lobbying and state government in recent years with a 6-month “cooling off” period for former legislators to become lobbyists, but I want to go further. I support extending the cooling off period to 1 year."
Several former lawmakers, including former Speaker and recent budget chairman Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, have become or announced plans to become lobbyists.
- "Retaining text and instant messages from mobile phones used for state business. In the past, the state has been slow to respond to advances in communications technology and their implications for state records law."
Those following the saga of former UNC coach Butch Davis will know why this is important.
- "Enhancing disclosure requirements of independent expenditures. There’s bipartisan support in the Legislature for limiting the influence of money in our elections by requiring greater disclosure of campaign spending by outside groups."
This year's campaign has marked a flood of virtually unregulated outside money into North Carolina races.
- "Instituting term limits for legislative leaders. Legislative leaders should keep their focus on what’s good for North Carolina and not remaining in power. I believe legislative leaders should be limited to a maximum of eight consecutive years serving the same office, just like our governors."
The state House passed a bill along these lines during the past session, but the Senate didn't move on it. Long-time legislative leaders like Black and former Senate President Pro Tempore Marc Basnight often came in for criticism for their longevity and how they kept it.
Dalton makes mention of several items reporters will like. For example, he talks about making statement of economic interest forms filed by lawmakers and other politicians available online. Currently, you have to request them from the ethics commission. And a proposal that political appointees disclose their campaign contributions will make doing the background research on cabinet secretaries easier.
Reporters will be asking Dalton about his proposal on a conference call that begins at 1 p.m.
Update: When Dalton spoke with reporters, he got several questions about what wasn't in his plan.
For example, he talks about disclosing his own tax returns but did not include a requirement that candidates for high office do so. "That's something that does need to be discussed," he said. Dalton also said he'd look at things such as requiring candidates for legislative office to file electronically.
Asked if he thought voters would make their decision based on a candidate's ethics policy, Dalton said, "Not so much, to tell you the truth." But he added that it was still the right thing to do.
In response to many questions, such one soliciting details on his proposal for an independent redistricting commission, Dalton said his plan includes the broad brush strokes and that details would be worked out later.
And he acknowledged the own irony in some of his proposals. For example, Dalton served as a senator with Basnight, the longest serving leader in the General Assembly's history.
"This proposal is no slam on Marc Basnight," Dalton said, calling the former leader "a visionary."
Dalton said that Basnight had done good things for the state but that future leaders couldn't necessarily be counted on to wield that kind of power in the public trust.
Update: McCrory 's campaign calls Dalton's proposal "laughable" and says the lieutenant governor is part of the good-ol'-boy system.
“Don’t forget that while he was the chief budget writer in the General Assembly for 6 years, he presided over a closed-door budget process. Through his closed-door budgets, he increased taxes every year, authored the largest spending increase in state history, squandered a $3 billion surplus and left a $4.6 billion deficit, leaving North Carolina in a fiscal disaster. It’s time to close the door on the Dalton-Perdue-Easley legacy of broken government once and for all," McCrory Press Secretary Ricky Diaz said.
While Democrats certainly closed off budget negotiations, they by no means have a monopoly on this behavior. Your friendly local blogger would note that the Republican budget process wasn't much more open, at least as far as the part of the process where and when meaningful decisions were made.