At a very small risk of violating North Carolina’s rather convoluted statutory ban on gifts to public officials, here is this year’s holiday wish list for some of our state’s most prominent political figures:
For Governor Roy Cooper and Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen: The chance to make the announcement that each of them has no doubt been dreaming of for nearly a year – an end to the ban on large, in-person gatherings and the full reopening of all schools, churches, restaurants, bars, gyms, sporting events and other public gathering places. Notwithstanding the absurd carping from troubled critics who accuse Cooper and Cohen of some nefarious desire to control everyone’s lives, the worry lines on their faces make clear to anyone willing to look that both leaders have had more than their fill of the pandemic and would like nothing better than to formally pronounce its defeat later this year.
For Senator Thom Tillis: $100 worth of lottery tickets. Why not? The man is obviously one of the nation’s luckiest politicians. With nearly six years of underwater popularity numbers, a list of legislative accomplishment as long as your pinky and just weeks to go before all but certain defeat in his bid for reelection, the state’s junior senator had the unbelievable good fortune to see his opponent self-destruct in a preposterous relationship scandal so tame that it paled laughably in comparison to behavior the President of the United States has repeatedly and publicly bragged about for decades.
For Senator Richard Burr: One truly memorable legislative accomplishment before he retires (or is removed from office for malfeasance). Richard Burr will soon begin his 27th year in Washington – his 17th in the Senate after ten in the House. He says he will retire when his current term ends in 2022, and with an investigation for illegal insider trading still apparently hanging over his head for actions taken after he learned details of the pandemic before they were available to the public, it’s conceivable that his service could end even sooner. And while it would be unfair to say that he is the most anonymous lawmaker to ever serve such an extended period in Washington, it would also be hard to find many North Carolinians who can name a single legislative achievement of the one-time lawn equipment distributor.
For state senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger: A copy of the book “Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.” Phil Berger has a come a long way since he arrived in Raleigh 20 years ago as a small-town lawyer. After two decades in the Legislative Building, he’s living the career politician’s dream; he’s become the state’s most powerful lawmaker, gotten his kid installed on the state Supreme Court, and cashed in on some questionable real estate machinations. Despite his perch in the catbird seat, however, Berger remains a perpetually angry and aggrieved dispenser of barbs and broadsides. He almost always refuses to engage in serious compromise with (or even to stand next to) Roy Cooper, lest someone leap to the conclusion that he agrees with the Governor on everything. Maybe what Berger needs is a boost of confidence to help him realize that he can actually govern responsibly without getting dumped by his far-right base.
For House Speaker Tim Moore: A job as a greeter at the Catawba Indian casino planned for his hometown. Three years ago, we wished for Moore to receive an inheritance so that North Carolinians would no longer have to see the Speaker of the state House engaged in the weird and ethically questionable practice of working as a publicly-compensated county attorney. Since then, he’s campaigned vigorously for a high-paid university chancellor position and also worked for the controversial South Carolina developer who’s trying to develop a casino in Kings Mountain. The man clearly wants (or needs) to cash in. If the casino does come to fruition, perhaps that can be the answer to his long quest.
For Lt. Gov-elect Mark Robinson: A copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Mr. Robinson appears to think that his fluky rise in state politics (in which he narrowly won a crowded GOP primary based upon a pro-gun rant that went viral online, and then rode Donald Trump’s coattails to a win over an under-resourced Democratic nominee) will continue to benefit from repeated outrageous and hateful statements. See, for example, his most recent offensive attack on Georgia Senate nominee Rev. Ralph Warnock in which Robinson said he “has the wisdom and decency of a crack addicted mugger in the late stages syphilitic insanity.” The suspicion and hope here, however, is that Robinson’s strategy will fizzle over time.
For Congressman-elect Madison Cawthorn: A free audience with doctors and nurses from a COVID-19 hospital ward. Maybe such a conversation will help this embarrassingly uninformed young man to understand the utter irresponsibility of giving speeches in which he states that public health directives urging people to avoid large holiday gatherings amount to “tyranny” that “needs to be fought.” Alternative gift: A tour of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Perhaps that would help Cawthorn to gain an inkling on what real tyranny is (and why he might want to remove Hitler hideouts from his list of “bucket list” tourist destinations).