Scott Mooneyham: Why more good people don’t run for office

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008

By Scott Mooneyham
RALEIGH ó It was 2002 or 2003. State Treasurer Richard Moore had been on the job a couple of years.
He wasn’t happy.
Then working for the Associated Press, I had come calling about a pension fund investing practice that then-State Auditor Ralph Campbell had raised questions about. A potentially critical story loomed.
Moore was his typical cordial, earnest self, but saw the line of questioning as unfair. He had reversed the brief practice, involving how brokerage house rebates were handled, as soon as Campbell raised the question. Effectively, there had been no policy change. No harm, no foul.
“Scott, this is why good people don’t run for public office,” he told me at the time.
I listened to his explanations, jotted them down, wrote my story. It barely caused a blip on the radar. His political career continued unaffected by a little story about a somewhat technical, financial practice that was a moot point anyway. No harm, no foul.
Obviously, no politician welcomes critical news stories. But it’s a bit amusing to hear elected officials blame news coverage and journalistic scrutiny for public cynicism, or use it as an explanation of why “good people don’t run for public office.”
I thought about those words from that long-ago interview after taking in the last few weeks of the race between Moore and Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue for the Democratic nomination for governor.
Moore’s campaign spewed out all kinds of bile during the final few weeks, running a television ad essentially accusing Perdue of giving comfort to the Ku Klux Klan. A radio spot attempting to woo black voters focused on the sales of Confederate flag hats at Georgia convenience stores owned by Perdue’s husband and operated by her stepson.
Voters apparently saw the ads for what they were ó an act of desperation. Perdue won by a blistering 16-point margin. Perhaps her pledge to stop negative attacks ads, made a few weeks before the conclusion of the race, worked.
In the aftermath, Moore should ask himself a question: How much did he contribute to public distrust of himself and his fellow politicians?
Consider these words, from a friend, as the gubernatorial campaign heated up in April: “Boy, those are two real sleazeballs going at it for the Democratic nomination.”
My friend has no connections to the political world. His comments weren’t based on anything that he had read in a newspaper. His words were a direct reflection of the television ads beamed into his den each night.
It would be nice to think that similar words won’t be spoken around watercoolers this fall.
Maybe Perdue’s high-road campaigning at the end will last. Perhaps a similar style of campaigning by Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory on his way to the Republican nomination will continue.
It is, after all, those nasty campaign ads that are one of the real reasons that a lot of good people don’t run for public office.
– – –
Scott Mooneyham is a columnist for Capitol Press Association.