Commentary

Berger sends contradictory messages about lobbyists and the UNC Board of Governors

Sen. Phil Berger

Tom Apodaca

In case you missed it, WRAL reported Thursday that former state Senator and current beer and wine industry lobbyist Tom Apodaca had declined an apparent opportunity to serve on the UNC Board of Governors.

This is from reporter Travis Fain’s story:

“I don’t think lobbyists should be on the Board of Governors,” he said.

Apodaca, a Henderson Republican and a key part of Senate leadership before he left the chamber in 2016, started his own lobbying firm shortly after he left the General Assembly. He and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger spoke about the Board of Governors within the last few days.

Apodaca said Berger, R-Rockingham, didn’t offer the seat, but “I didn’t let him.”

“We were talking about it in general, and I said, ‘Boss, I am not interested,'” Apodaca said Wednesday.

Setting aside the weirdness that a) Apodaca apparently saw no problem in serving as a member of the Board of Trustees of Western Carolina University while employed as a lobbyist (something he did for a five month stint according to the story) and b) a lobbyist calling the Senate leader “boss,” here’s the real kicker in the story:

Berger spokesman Pat Ryan confirmed that Apodaca and Berger discussed the vacancy.

“Senator Berger and former Senator Apodaca both agreed that a lobbyist should not be appointed to fill the existing vacancy, although Senator Berger said former Senator Apodaca would make an excellent member,” Ryan said in an email.

You got that? Berger agrees that it would be a bad idea to appoint a lobbyist to the Board of Governors.

To which, all a body can say is: a) good for the Senator, and b) what the heck?

It’s great to hear Berger throwing shade on the idea of lobbyists serving on the board, but that didn’t stop him from advancing lobbyists in the past. There are at least four registered lobbyists on the board right now (not to mention numerous other well-connected politicos). Two lobbyists — the highly controversial Tom Fetzer and Thom Goolsby — were put on the board by the Senate that Berger runs.

Perhaps Berger is parsing his words by saying that he doesn’t think a lobbyist should “fill the existing vacancy,” but if that’s his story he’s slicing the baloney pretty darn thin (much as he has done with his recently exposed scheme to profit from campaign contributions that he’s using to buy a house in Raleigh).

The bottom line: Apodaca may be an affable guy, but he and Berger are absolutely right that he doesn’t belong on the Board of Governors, and the same is true of all other lobbyists. Now that he has had this apparent conversion, Berger should seek the resignations of Goolsby, Fetzer and the others and work to open a new chapter for UNC.

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