Christensen

Crusader wears tarnished armor

Staff WriterOctober 27, 2009 

Former Gov. Mike Easley

N&O FILE PHOTO

— After having spent much of his life as the hunter, former Gov. Mike Easley is the prey.

Easley rose in politics as corruption-busting district attorney and a consumer-oriented attorney general, then as an outsider governor who didn't like good ol' boy politics.

That image is a distant memory.

On Monday, Easley's reputation suffered deep damage as the State Board of Elections opened several days of hearings into allegations of election-law violations that occurred during his eight years as governor.

Gone were the stories of Easley as the young drug-busting prosecutor who kept a shotgun next to his bed and a revolver in his glove compartment, and sent his wife and young son to live with out-of-state relatives. Instead, there were allegations that he had a political pal fix up his Raleigh house, charged the cost to his campaign, then pocketed the insurance money.

Gone were the days when he put two of his three local sheriffs in jail on corruption charges. Instead, there was testimony of him getting 61 free airplane flights worth $102,185 from McQueen Campbell, the Raleigh businessman Easley helped make chairman of the N.C. State University Board of Trustees.

Gone were the stories of Easley going after the often-prosecuted Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green. Instead there were stories of incredible deals for him from a Fayetteville car dealer, and how campaign donation limits were avoided by fat cats sending money to the state party -- a common practice in politics.

There was one bombshell moment when you could hear everyone in the packed downtown hotel room collectively suck in their breath.

That was when the boyish looking Campbell explained how Easley twice asked him to make $11,000 repairs on his Raleigh house, which he was renting to tenants while he was living in the Executive Mansion. Easley then had him bill his campaign for airplane flights to cover the cost, according to Campbell. State election officials say they have documents that show that even though Easley didn't pay for the repairs, he went ahead and filed an insurance claim.

Campbell's story was backed up by a secretary who worked for Dave Horne, Easley's campaign treasurer, who said she received a personal call from the governor telling her to cut the campaign check for the flights despite her reservations.

For Easley, this has trouble written all over it.

Easley can blame the prosecutors or he can blame the press. But Easley chose to swim in the swamp of easy favors and bendable campaign finance laws.

As someone who knew Easley the young crusader, I think that is sad.

We have yet to hear from him, so we have not heard the full story on the house repairs and the other issues raised at the hearings. We await further testimony to find out what laws, if any, Easley may have broken.

One thing seems clear from the first day of testimony: If Easley came to Raleigh to clean up politics, he utterly failed.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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