Tales From A Reporter’s Notebook: Politicians I Have Encountered in Unusual Places

Now Playing: Outfit, by Drive-By Truckers. “I learned not to say much of nothing and I figured you already know, But in case you don’t or maybe forgot, I’ll lay it out real nice and slow. Don’t call what your wearing an outfit. Don’t ever say your car is broke. Don’t worry about losing your accent, a Southern Man tells better jokes.”

Last year, I wrote about my brushes with the Notorious – including former House Speaker Jim Black. Before he went to the slammer for political corruption, he used to occasionally come into the Jersey Mike’s where I worked sometimes in Matthews. I won’t lie – I didn’t like him at all. Aside from being a lousy – make that nonexistent – tipper, he was always distracted, self-important and completely unappreciative of the fact that we kept turkey bacon on hand just for him – he liked the turkey and ham club (the No. 8). The guy who ran/owned the joint, Dave, always tried to engage Black in conversation, as did some customers. They got little from him.

So I wasn’t too unhappy when the news of his corruption surfaced.

But reflecting on that reminded me of other elected officials I’d encountered in a 30-year career in journalism. I’ve chatted with all sorts of mayors, state representatives and senators, governors and congressmen. Nothing outside the line of duty though, for the most part. And frankly not very interesting.

But that’s not true in two other cases.

While he was still state treasurer, Richard Moore came to Charlotte and dropped by my magazine, Business North Carolina, to chat with the editors. He discussed the state’s bond rating and why it mattered – frankly, I can’t remember why it does, if it does – and a few other business-centered topics. He was funny, engaging and smart – so much so that I voted for him in the 2008 primary against Beverly Perdue. But he had no idea that we’d crossed paths once before – because if he had he might have punched me in the nose.

As it turned out, Moore, who is from Oxford, a small town north of Durham, was the secretary of crime control and public safety during the time I was in Henderson, where I was editor of the The Daily Dispatch newspaper. A friend and I coached a basketball team at the YMCA, where my son Austin stayed after school. It was a low-stress sort of gig. The kids were only 5 or 6, we mainly just tried to keep them from getting hurt.

Moore’s son also played in the league. Most of the time his mother brought him to games. But not this particular Saturday.

A disclaimer: I’m a man of some quirks – OK, a lot of quirks. One of them is that I can’t stand someone dribbling on the sideline while I’m coaching a team. For one, it makes it difficult for the players to hear any instructions. For another, it can be distracting. Hearing the sounds of the game can help you react in some situations. Granted, for my team, it was probably a good thing when they couldn’t hear Greg and I giving instructions, and these kids got distracted by their shoestrings, so I was probably a little out of line for what comes next.

The first time I asked, I was pretty courteous. “Hold the ball, please,” I said to young Moore. He acknowledged me and stopped dribbling for maybe 23 seconds. Then he started again. Then I started again. “HOLD THE BALL, PLEASE!” I shouted at the kid, who couldn’t have been any more than 8 years old. I’ll give him this; he did stop that time. But I got a scowl from the secretary. Afterwards, I think Greg mended fences – he was the head of the Henderson chamber and it would have behooved him to maintain a good relationship with a politician, especially one who even then had his eyes on bigger things. And for the record, I’d still vote for him over pretty much any Democrat I can think of.

The other state official was another one who was secretary of crime control and public safety. In fact, I think he might have just been appointed to the job back in 1979, which wasn’t long after I started working as a reporter at The Daily News in Jacksonville. I didn’t know much about Burley Mitchell Jr. when I went to cover his appearance in Swansboro. But I’d kind of follow his career as Gov. Jim Hunt appointed him to the N.C. Supreme Court in 1982 – he became chief justice in 1994 and served until 1999.

But, as I said earlier, on this night he’d be in Swansboro. I was assigned to cover his appearance and do some kind of story. Sounds like pretty run-of-the-mill reporter stuff, right? No, not so much.

The appearance was at the Swansboro Moose Lodge – the first and last time I’d ever go to a Moose club.

Here’s the thing: There was a huge spread of food, and the Moose (Meese?) were drinking and having fun with the state official. Mitchell ate, of course, but he didn’t drink. But he couldn’t help but be a part of the entertainment for the night. The club had hired a belly dancer – these were simpler times, of course. No one really thought much of it. The scantily clad dancer made it a point to shake her moneymaker – and we ain’t talking her belly here – at Mitchell and his aide and maybe even at me (since I’m telling, I’m not telling).

Afterward he made a few bland but safe general remarks and made his way back to Raleigh. And the Moose (Meese?) kept partying.

Meanwhile I went back to the newsroom, where I enthusiastically told the tale of the belly dancer and the state official at the Moose Lodge – though I’ve never written about that part of the night until today. Maybe a little too enthusiastically.

Because I soon came to be known as Moose around the newspaper. As it turned out, it was the last-but-one nickname I’d ever get, and I didn’t shed it until I left for Gastonia.

And it was all because of a man who would become the chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court.

“I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts.  After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough.” _ Claire Sargent, Arizona senatorial candidate (she lost to McCain)



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2 responses to “Tales From A Reporter’s Notebook: Politicians I Have Encountered in Unusual Places

  1. Dee Shore

    So now I know where your nickname came from! N.C. politicians: Ack. Very glad to be out of the reporting game.

  2. the arthurnator

    Yep, they’re a pretty crappy bunch.

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