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Charges Against Former Black Appointees Bring New Concerns For Speaker

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RALEIGH, N.C. — House Speaker Jim Black has taken plenty of heat in recent years because of his defense of video poker. Now that's just one of his concerns, as people connected to him face criminal charges.

In this new session, Black is juggling his job and damage control. For months, the pressure built for Black to resign. But despite state and federal investigations linked to his leadership, he's still banging the gavel in the house.

Black is known as a political survivor, but the hits keep coming. His appointment to the state Lottery Commission has been indicted. Kevin Geddings faces federal and state charges, alleging he tried to hide financial ties to a lottery company. Black's former political director, Meredith Norris, is charged with violating lobbying laws.

When asked if his ties to Geddings and Norris compromise Black's leadership in the house, he said, "No, and I cannot make any comment on any ongoing legal issue. But, I'm staying focused as the Speaker of the House."

Members of the Senate appear focused on challenging two of Black's pet projects. The Senate budget includes a provision to repeal mandatory eye exams for children entering kindergarten, which the speaker, an optometrist, promoted. Senators also unanimously approved a video poker ban, which Black has helped block in the past.

"These are just the wrong things for North Carolina," said Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake. "For me, it's not a matter of 'Is the Speaker right or wrong?' It's what's right for North Carolina."

With all the tension, lawmakers are more hesitant than ever to talk about their leader. Rep. Alice Underhill called for Black's resignation before session.

"I'm particularly interested in making sure I'm here doing what I'm supposed to do as a legislator, and let the courts and the judiciary work itself through," said Underhill.

Black pointed out that ethics committees he appointed are churning out valuable ethics legislation. He has admitted he made some mistakes in judgment, but he didn't break any laws.