From an editorial in The Fayetteville Observer on Wednesday:
Nearly a year ago, a Raleigh advocacy group uncovered information that raised serious ethical and legal questions about the dealings of Kinston lawmaker Rep. Stephen LaRoque.
The high-ranking Republican, according to an N.C. Policy Watch report, was running two nonprofit agencies that steered federal economic-development money to struggling rural entrepreneurs. It appeared he also steered some of that money to his own large salary and into loans to close associates, including his wife and some fellow legislators.
Policy Watch is a Democrat-leaning organization, but the inquiry into LaRoques financial operations was done by a staffer who is a professional journalist with solid investigative-reporting credentials.
In September, House Minority Leader Joe Hackney urged Speaker Thom Tillis to begin an ethics investigation. Tillis did nothing.
Hackney repeated his request in November, seeking a bipartisan probe, either with a special commission or the N.C. Legislative Ethics Committee.
Hackney, a former House speaker, is no stranger to that process. He appointed such a commission to investigate fellow Democrat Thomas Wright in 2007. Today, Wright is serving a prison term. Hackney also had a ringside seat for the ethical and legal crash of former Speaker Jim Black.
Tillis still did nothing. The fallout grew.
The speakers own office was then tarnished by revelations that his chief of staff and another top aide were in romantic relationships with lobbyists. But instead of taking ethics action against them, Tillis allowed them to resign with substantial severance checks.
As we approach the one-year anniversary next month of Policy Watchs LaRoque revelations, the speaker has finally taken action after a federal grand jury indicted LaRoque for financial irregularities. After 11 months, Tillis referred the LaRoque allegations to the Legislative Ethics Committee and also asked LaRoque to resign.
We are mindful that indictments dont equal convictions. LaRoque will have his day in court. But in light of the recent history of state government corruption, we would expect that legislative leaders would understand the damage that even the appearance of wrongdoing can cause.
The General Assembly can create all the commissions it wants and pass the best ethics legislation in the nation, but that wont change anything unless our government leaders use the tools theyve given themselves. Otherwise, they send this sorry message: Corruption is bipartisan and still pervasive in Raleigh.