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Court sentencing recalls bad political times

By Guest Columnist Carl Langley
web posted May 14, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – In 1998 I was covering the South Carolina political campaigns for the Aiken Standard newspaper, and my focus was on the battle for governor between incumbent Republican David Beasley and Democrat challenger Jim Hodges.

Hodges won the election. If ever a man never deserved to be governor it was Jim Hodges, and he proved it by serving only one term. It was four years too many.

Nearly a decade down life’s highway, I recall watching Hodges sitting on the front row in the federal courthouse in Aiken, where he had taken his battle against the Savannah River Site‘s nuclear materials transport policies.

Hodges was at the courthouse because he had sued the federal government over nuclear transports. I feared his mind had been taken over by environmental extremists and assorted anarchists and doomsayers, who have made protesting the nation’s defense facilities their life’s work.

Hodges was so captivated by the nut cakes that he threatened at one point to lie down in the roadway to stop the nuclear materials shipments. In an amazing stretch of his powers as governor he even directed the Highway Patrol to block transport vehicles from using the state’s highways.

It was Mickey Mouse stuff at its best until Federal Judge Cameron Currie put him in his place with a ruling upholding the federal government‘s right to ship material critical to national defense.

While sitting in the courthouse and listening to lawyers for both sides argue the issues, I felt a sense of shame that this little man was serving as chief executive officer of the state in which I was born, raised, educated and worked most of my life.

Like the twisted and confused Jimmy Carter whose presidential administration was one of chaos, confusion and occasional comedy, Hodges was a political accident. He got elected more on David Beasley’s tactical mistakes than he did on his merits.

Beasley got himself in trouble on two fronts months before Hodges got into the race, The governor’s first mistake was supporting the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol dome, which I supported. The second was declaring war on the state’s gambling tycoons, which I also supported.

At the time of the Beasley-Hodges contest I was old enough to remember that the flag was hoisted atop the dome by a gaggle of legislators who were more attuned to wine, women and song than the changing of the times.

I said then and I still say now that the flag never should have gone up in the first place, and if it ever were to be taken down it should have gone straight to the state museum or the historical archives room. I am a descendant of men who fought for the Confederacy and they would be proud of me. The time has long been past to put all of that misery behind us.

In a form I didn’t believe he was capable of Hodges did some masterful dance steps around the flag controversy and took an oath of silence. But at the same time he craftily took to his bosom the video poker barons who were getting rich off the more simple minded who believed they could gamble themselves into riches.

While fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters were going broke due to gambling addictions, the video poker boys had money to buy mansions and plantations, while at the same time pumping cash into the Hodges campaign.

While everyone’s attention was on video poker, the flag finally came down. Confederate and NAACP chieftains agreed with a legislative proposal to take the flag off the capitol dome but relocate it to another place on the state house grounds.

Everyone seemed to be happy, and everyone thought the dispute was over. I said then that it was a doomed compromise, and I was right. The NAACP, always in need of a spark to ignite the fires of racism, returned to the battlefield and the flag came under attack again. It will continue under attack, even in a museum, because these people need something to complain about.

During the final days of the 1998 campaign, I tried to ask Hodges at a meeting in Aiken what his position was on a state-run lottery, which a majority of citizens favored, and if he would like to separate himself from the video poker gang that was destroying families.

I told Hodges that my investigation showed that less than a half-dozen men in this state were raking in millions of dollars while a lot of men and women were becoming gambling addicts. I told Hodges that entire paychecks were going into the machines and life savings were being lost. I tried to tell him about a widow who lost an inheritance of more than $750,000 to the gambling bosses.

Hodges ignored my questions about video poker and a couple of his Aiken supporters, one of them a friend of mine, shouted me down for being so bold as to ask questions about the gambling issue. One of them got in my face and told me my questions weren’t wanted. Hodges left town without giving me an answer.

I thought about nuclear issues, the Confederate flag and video poker losers after reading about a man named Kevin Geddings, now a forgotten figure from the 1998 political campaign but a main player in the Hodges campagin..

Geddings was Hodges’ campaign manager and after the election he became the new governor’s chief of staff. Like the governor, he failed to distinguish himself in that post but he managed to lay the foundation for his fall from grace.

Geddings was sentenced Monday to four years in the federal penal system for lying about his ties to a company bidding on the state of North Carolina’s lottery business. He had moved to North Carolina after Hodges was ousted and managed to get himself named to that state’s lottery commission.

During the Beasley-Hodges campaign, Geddings was Hodges’ point man, his political guru, his advisor, his front man, his spokesman and master of many shadowy things. I sensed he was a rat then and time has proved me right.

Geddings was like a lot of political operatives who would sell their souls to get their candidates elected, who will lie at the drop of a hat and who will not think twice about spreading false tales about those on the other side of the political fence.

I remember Geddings for a lot of things but mostly because of the hatchet job he tried on Rep. James Roland Smith, a veteran member of the Aiken House Delegation and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Smith was a victim of one of Geddings’ more nefarious political tricks. In that one Geddings took two separate sentences of a letter Smith wrote about insurance issues and tried to make Smith look like a lackey for the insurance industry.

I was one of the first to get a copy of the letter, read it and smelled a rat before discussing it with Smith. What Geddings did was the most flagrant example of creating twisted and misleading information I had ever seen.

I called Geddings’ hand on it but he never changed his story or apologized. Smith was hurt but he brushed it off. He told me “what goes around comes around,” and sooner or later truth and justice would come rolling around the curve. So it cme to pass in a North Carolina courthouse.

Geddings, who lost his political base after Hodges was unseated by Mark Sanford, stood before Federal Judge James Dever III in a Raleigh courthouse and received a prison sentence that will keep him behind bars for four years.

He was convicted of fraud and lying in an investigation of the state’s newly enacted lottery business. After getting himself a seat on the North Carolina Lottery Commission, a case of a fox being named to head a security detail for a flock of chickens, he used his new post to enrich his business.

Geddings’ story is a sad one because he is the father of two small children, one with autism, and his wife is a diabetic. He used his family’s medical issues in a plea for a probated sentence, while federal prosecutors were asking for eight years to send a message to others.

Judge Dever expressed sympathy for Geddings‘ family problems, but he ordered him to serve a sentence of four years, and tacked on a $25,000 fine. The judge observed that the defendant‘s conduct caused serious doubt about the lottery‘s management.

The State newspaper called the Geddings case “a dramatic fall from power.” I find fault with that headline because there was nothing dramatic about it. It had long been accepted by Geddings lied and lied and lied and proper punishment finally caught up with him.

Geddings had plenty of opportunity over the years to run clean political campaigns and be honest with himself and others. He could have focused on his candidate’s merits rather than using dirty tricks and lying about the other side, but he chose the dark side of the ledger and he took that trait into his business activities.

Unfortunately for the voters, Geddings’ machinations do not represent an isolated case. There are a lot of political operatives out and about who are using the same dishonest tactics and they come from all sides of the political spectrum.

Political operatives, analysts, strategists or whatever you want to call them are creatures of recent vintage, the parasites of a political process taken captive by ideologues on the left and right. They carry the viruses of deceit and greed and they have brought shame to the American democracy.


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