The biggest political story in Raleigh this week has not been the debates between the candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for governor. It has been the troubles at the N.C. Democratic Party.
Executive Director Jay Parmley resigned Saturday after news accounts that the party had paid a former staff member as part of a settlement over sexual harassment charges against Parmley.
The agreement included a nondisclosure clause but leaked emails confirmed the rumors of the allegations that had been circulating in Raleigh for months. Parmley denies that he sexually harassed anybody.
Governor Bev Perdue first brushed off questions about the settlement calling it a party personnel matter. Monday she finally added her voice to a growing list of Democratic elected officials calling for the resignation of Party Chair David Parker.
Parker apparently approved the settlement with the former employee and briefed Perdue about it in December. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Parker does not resign. That may have happened by the time you read this.
If there is a delay, it might be that party elders are scrambling to figure out what happens next, who becomes the party’s chair and its director of day to day operations in Raleigh.
Those decisions would be important enough in a normal political season but they take on even more significance this year with the Democratic National Convention coming to Charlotte and the fact that North Carolina is a highly contested swing state in the presidential election.
Democrats are also scrambling to regain seats they lost in the General Assembly in the 2010 election and facing the potential loss of several congressional seats in November because of the gerrymandered districts drawn by Republican legislative leaders.
Then there is the uphill struggle to hold the governorship after Perdue announced she was not seeking reelection. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, the presumptive Republican nominee, holds a significant lead in the polls over each of his potential Democratic challengers and has raised more money than all of them combined.
The scandal looks like a recipe for disaster for Democrats. And it might be. Gleeful Republicans and their surrogates certainly can’t stop talking about it and trying to keep the story alive.
This week some of the GOP propagandists were comparing Perdue’s testiness with reporters to former Congressman and current candidate for governor Bobby Etheridge’s confrontation with Republican operatives posing as students on the streets of Washington in 2010.
That’s absurd on its face but expect the GOP to try anything to keep people talking about the scandal instead of the issues facing the state.
They know if the election is about the Republican state budget that fired teachers or the about the legislature’ attacks on the environment or the GOP’s extremist social agenda, they won’t fare very well.
The problem with that strategy is that unless they are party activists, very few people outside of Raleigh know who Jay Parmley and David Parker are. They are not running for anything.
It is hard to imagine voters deciding not to support a candidate for the state Senate because of a sexual harassment scandal at Democratic Party headquarters.
That’s why Republicans are also focusing on Gov. Perdue. She is the de facto head of the party and it’s certainly legitimate to ask why she didn’t demand answers when she first heard of the allegations.
Focusing attention on her inaction will keep the story alive. And it’s true that if wiser heads had prevailed in December, the party would already be under new leadership now and the scandal would be behind them.
But Perdue is not on the ballot either.
None of this is to say that Democrats will come out of this episode unscathed. Not by any means. And there could be more revelations to come.
At the very least, you would think potential donors would think twice before making a contribution. And Democratic candidates will have to answer questions about the scandal for a while.
But Republicans probably ought to keep the corks in their champagne. People care more about schools and jobs than the sordid details of what is happening at Democratic Party headquarters in Raleigh.
And it’s a long time until November.