What is the first rule of politics?
“Follow the money,” says Mickey, a character in Robert Inman’s new book, “The Governor’s Lady.”
It is a rule that we might overlook in a time when our politics seems to be defined by hard-line ideological differences. In fact, some of us would argue that following the money would be a fruitless diversion if we are searching for the real motivation of today’s political activists.
Not Mickey. In Inman’s book, she is the mother of the new governor of an unnamed southern state. Mickey has been in politics all her life. She has made and broken the careers of aspiring office holders. Her husband was the two-term governor, and so was her son-in-law. She knows every bathroom in the governor’s mansion and which might need a renovation costing several hundred thousand dollars to make presentable.
She gives her “follow the money” advice to her daughter, the new governor, who has been asked to approve a big real estate deal with the state getting valuable water front land in exchange for a tract of isolated mountain land.
The new governor explains to her mother, “But no money is involved.”
“Don’t be so sure,” responds Mickey, the mother. “Money, real money, is quiet. So quiet you have to listen hard to hear it. The noise and politics, it’s mostly about what people call ‘issues.’ Folks at opposite ends of the spectrum yelling at each other. The gun nuts and the tree-huggers here and the bleeding hearts and tree-huggers over here. Smoke and fire, thunder and lightning. But back in the shadows, being quiet, are the people with the big money, people who stand to make a lot more money, depending on who holds office. And they don’t really care which bunch it is, gun nuts or tree-huggers. They can do business with either, or anything in between, or both at the same time. Whatever works. They are happy letting the circus go on, the nastier and noisier the better, because that’s what gets attention.”
“That’s incredibly cynical,” the new governor says.
Her mother explains, “Don’t get me wrong, money people have ideas and opinions, but they rarely let them get in the way of their money. So always, always, follow the money.”
Author Robert Inman knows politics. He ran the press office of Alabama Governor Albert Brewer, before moving to North Carolina to watch politics for more than 25 years as news anchor at Charlotte’s WBTV.
When I asked, Inman said he agreed with Mickey’s comments about the power of money in politics.
The corrupting role of money in politics is a key feature of “The Governor’s Lady,” as Cooper Lanier, the new governor, must deal with the possibility that the former governor, her husband, current presidential candidate Pickett Lanier had arranged state transactions that lined the pockets of his political and financial supporters.
Inman’s inside look at the family of ambitious politicians makes for great story telling for those of us who remember when Lurleen Wallace won election as governor of Alabama as a stand-in for her husband George, when term limits prevented him from running for re-election. And it resonates with the current drama of a possible return of Bill Clinton to the White House as the nation’s first “First Husband.”
Inman’s first book, “Home Fires Burning” in 1987, signaled his gifts as a storyteller and since he left the WBTV newsroom in 1996, Inman has been a full-time and productive writer of novels, plays, and screenplays. The coming together of his experience covering public affairs and his talents as a writer make “The Governor’s Lady” a welcome gift for any reader who loves politics.
— D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV.