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What's Jim Black's Impact On His Political Party, Future?

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RALEIGH, N.C. — After months of investigation and three days of public hearings into alleged campaign finance violations, what's the damage assessment for House Speaker Jim Black, and how costly will his troubles be for fellow Democrats?

Although Black's fundraising for allies is one of his biggest strengths, State Board of Elections hearings show it's also a liability.

The elections board is expected to reconvene next month to take a closer look into video poker contributions that funneled to Black and his allies. State and federal investigations are also ongoing.

Still, there's no public outcry from Democrats to have Black resign from his leadership position in the General Assembly. Behind the scenes, though, there is growing concern about ongoing investigations into his money and influence.

Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake County, doesn't want to speculate on the Black's future as House speaker or his impact on Democrats, but Martin says he does want campaign finance and ethics reforms.

"The things we heard about were troubling," Martin said. "They tell me what I already knew. There's a clear need for change."

North Carolina State political science professor Andy Taylor points out Democrats hold a precarious three-seat majority in the House. The longer ethical questions linger, the more they damage Black and his power base.

"Slowly, it chips away," Taylor said. "It weakens and weakens, and at some stage there's got to be a tipping point."

Republican political strategist Tom Fetzer believes the tipping point is coming quickly.

"While the Democrat caucus may look like a duck on the surface, calm and placid and serene, I guarantee you underneath the water there's a lot of churning," he said. "And I would not be surprised if Jim Black is not there to bring down the gavel when they come into the short session in May."

Black continues to maintain his innocence and has announced his intention to remain House speaker.

Ultimately, however, his fellow Democrats will decide whether Black helps or hurts the party.


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