Former House Speaker Richard Morgan’s book, The Fourth Witch: A Memoir of Politics and Sinning, has the same virtue as William Shatner’s video: Humor. No one gets shot by a gun-toting Boston lawyer but there are plenty of other good stories straight out of North Carolina politics. Here’s a sample:
Politics and Sinning
Most times, when a fellow runs for office and you ask him, Why, he’ll take a deep breath and give you a high-sounding reason – like he’s going to stop the ice caps melting, save family values, or single-handedly end poverty.
But I can tell you – first hand – most politicians have earthier goals: Like greed, vanity or ambition.
A few years ago we elected a farmer to the United States Senate. When hog prices dropped he sponsored a bill to subsidize trade with the Russians – to sell them more hogs.
The biggest Bible thumper I served with in the House – a hard-shell fundamentalist who taught at The Gospel Light Christian School – took a fifty-thousand-dollar bribe to vote with the same Democrats who’d killed every bill he’d introduced to ban abortion.
Another legislator owned a multi-million dollar beer and wine distributorship and saw nothing wrong with serving on the House Committee that regulates alcohol.
Another legislator managed a successful architectural firm that received ten million dollars in unbid state contracts.
Once, when I was Speaker, leaving the House Chamber I came face to face with an old man, a county commissioner wearing khakis, a denim shirt and a thick-soled pair of boots.
I stopped, nodded and asked, ‘So, tell me, how did you get into politics?’
He scratched his head then grinned. ‘Well, that was simple – like most young people I was interested in sinning.’
‘You learn much?’
‘Probably not as much as you.’
He smacked his lips. ‘You know ole Jim Hunt?’
After Governor Hunt was elected the third time Republicans and Democrats in the House had a knock-down, drag-out fight over the budget and one spring night, dead set on breaking the deadlock, Hunt walked out of the Governor’s Mansion, trekked down the block to the condominium I shared with House Speaker Harold Brubaker and strolled through the door carrying a six-pack of hard full-sugar Pepsi under his arm.
A Republican couldn’t be too careful when dealing with Governor Hunt. One moment he’d be all charm and the next, as soon as you let your guard down, he’d pounce and before you could stop your lips from moving out of a spirit of comity and good will you’d agree to vote for a bill you hadn’t seen yourself supporting in a thousand years.
What stopped Hunt dead in his tracks that night was one of those new vibrating recliner chairs from Sharper Image my wife had given me after I won my first election. Hunt settled all the way back in that chair and it started to hum and he grinned, ‘Mighty fine,’ and any orneriness he felt flew right out the window.
We put steaks on the grill and passed the next three and a half hours without a harsh word as Hunt drank that whole six-pack of hard Pepsi.
Ten years later, looking back at the old county commissioner, I said carefully, ‘Yes sir. I knew Governor Hunt.’
‘That boy give you a hard time?’
I remembered the first morning Hunt called and woke me out of a sound sleep just after the crack of dawn to talk about a bill.
‘He tended to burn the midnight oil and forget normal folks sleep at night.’
He grunted. ‘That boy always did have a red-hot passion for politics.’
‘There I’d have to say you’re wrong.’
The ridges in the old man’s face hardened. ‘I reckon you figure you got a better explanation?’
‘I’d say the reason for that passion was pure sugar.’