Anyone have a bridle?

By Scott Mooneyham | Mar 25, 2013

RALEIGH — Twenty years ago, the late Congressman Charlie Rose had become enmeshed in some type of dispute with the University of North Carolina system.

The gist of the disagreement has long since faded from my memory, along with who may have been right or wrong. What I have never forgotten is Rose's description of then-UNC system president C.D. Spangler.

Rose, reaching for a reference to arrogance, referred to Spangler as "an unbridled billionaire." As memorable as it was, the phrase might have been a bit redundant.

After all, that is the thing about billionaires and millionaires of the multi, multi variety. They tend to be unbridled. When you have that much money, when you run huge business enterprises, when you can sit back and survey a significant economic empire that you created or control, you don't tend to take much lip from anyone.

So it was the other day when Jim Goodmon, the owner of Capitol Broadcasting, owner of the Durham Bulls and developer of the vibrant American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham, came to the legislature to talk to state senators.

Goodmon was none too happy that these upstart lawmakers were pursuing legislation to cancel an agreement between the state and the city of Raleigh to lease major portions of what longtime Raleigh residents know as "Dix Hill," the huge piece of property that  housed the now closed Dorothea Dix psychiatric hospital.

The city plans to develop the property into a downtown park. The issue may not have much resonance outside of the Raleigh-Durham area. Still, it sparked some drama rarely seen in the Legislative Building, and was a reminder that the economically powerful see themselves as ruling the politically powerful, and not vice versa.

For Goodmon, who sits on a planning board for the property, the legislation amounted to fighting words. He told the senators that they were botching a great economic development opportunity. Then he dressed them down.

"Tell me why people are supposed to trust doing business with the state?" Goodmon said. "It is not honorable."

He repeated the "not honorable" part several times and in various ways. The comments provoked an angry response from one of the more powerful men in the state legislature, Sen. Tom Apodaca, the Henderson County Republican who heads the Senate Rules Committee.

"I will not be threatened at the General Assembly," Apodaca barked back.

See, that's the thing about powerful legislators. They also tend to be a bit unbridled. Like those billionaires, they get used to being kings of all they survey, with lobbyists and staffers bowing and scraping, and only the occasional reporter to poke them in the eye.

Then along comes one of those other kinds of kings, and like a couple bull sea lions, they want to crash and maul each other to see who is more powerful. Meanwhile, the rest of us probably ought to be looking around, in the corners, to see if we can find a bridle.