What does a lesson learned from a Mecklenburg County district court judge many years ago and a recent experience of Duke Energy have to do with this year’s presidential election?
It has been almost 45 years since a brand new Charlotte lawyer presented a proposed order to Judge J. Edward Stukes. It was a routine procedural order, not controversial, or so the young lawyer told Stukes. The judge looked up at the lawyer and told him he would sign the order because he trusted him to tell the truth about the situation and the purpose of the proposed order. He told the young lawyer that if he ever violated that trust, it would take a long time, if not forever, for him to win it back. I was that lawyer, and I never forgot the lesson.
Duke Energy’s predecessor, Duke Power Co., spent more than 100 years building a culture of trust, under the leadership of people like Bill McGuire, Carl Horn, Bill Lee, Bill Grigg, and others.
That trust was an asset of incalculable value when Duke was dealing with the public. The asset was damaged, if not lost forever, by Duke’s apparent misrepresentation of its intentions regarding its chief executive officer after its merger with Progress Energy.
Okay, what do Judge Stuke’s advice and Duke Energy’s stumble have to do with the presidential election?
Coming into last week’s Republican convention, Mitt Romney’s vice presidential choice, Paul Ryan, attracted considerable favorable public attention, even from people who disagreed with his politics. He seemed to be a bright and trustworthy public servant.
That image could have been a great asset for the Romney campaign. Inexplicably, Ryan threw away this great asset in his convention speech with its blatant and transparent misleading statements. Independent reporters, as well as the Obama campaign, noticed immediately.
What got the most attention was Ryan’s implication, arguably his assertion, that an automobile plant in Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin had closed even though Obama had promised it would stay open.
Here is what Ryan said:
“A lot of guys I went to high school with worked at that GM plant. Right there at that plant, candidate Obama said: ‘I believe that if our government is there to support you … this plant will be here for another hundred years.’ That’s what he said in 2008.
“Well, as it turned out, that plant didn’t last another year. It is locked up and empty to this day. And that’s how it is in so many towns today, where the recovery that was promised is nowhere in sight.”
Although the plant’s closure was announced before Obama became president, Ryan wanted his listeners to hold the president and his policies accountable.
News reporters and commentators rushed to tag Ryan’s speech for other misleading statements, including (1) blaming Obama for doing nothing on the Bowles-Simpson Commission report, when commission member Ryan’s no vote insured that the report would not get enough votes to be adopted by the commission, and (2) blaming Obama for funneling $716 billion from Medicare, when Ryan’s budget proposal takes away exactly the same amount.
Sally Kohn, a columnist for foxnews.com, wrote, “… to anyone paying the slightest bit of attention to facts, Ryan’s speech was an apparent attempt to set the world record for the greatest number of blatant lies and misrepresentations slipped into a single political speech.”
Kohn may be exaggerating the degree of Ryan’s misrepresentations. But his trickiness with the truth cost him an asset that could have been a big help for the Republican ticket this fall.
It put him in the same basket with any lawyer who tried to get something by Judge Stukes and any utility company that misleads a utility commission.
It has a name: The Basket of Lost Trust.