Barry Saunders

Fletcher Hartsell’s brand of fiscal conservatism – letting his campaign pay

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell
Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Raleigh

As a blissfully single man with no kids, my buddy Eddie often ate his meals standing over his kitchen sink and from a can.

“When I eat,” he’d boast, “my whole family eats.”

State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell apparently has the same attitude, sort of. Difference is, when Hartsell’s whole family eats, his constituents eat.

That’s what Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican who is being investigated for the improper expenditure of campaign funds, told the Board of Elections. He argued that he was allowed to spend campaign money on supping with his family because family members are his constituents, too.

Unlike Hartsell, though, the board wasn’t buying. Board chairman Josh Howard, in an N&O story last week, said, “I think we see a pattern here of opaque and circuitous disclosures.”

In other words, Hartsell is accused of using the moolah that political supporters contributed for his political campaign on things he shouldn’t have – and then trying to hide it. The bipartisan board unanimously reached that decision, its members said, even after giving “the greatest latitude” to Hartsell’s protestations of innocence and his explanations. (His “hard sell,” you might say – but shouldn’t.)

The board has forwarded its findings to local prosecutors, who’ll determine if his profligacy amounts to a crime.

A hippie?

In addition to feeding his family at donor expense, among other expenditures the senator tried to justify to the board – presumably without guffawing – was his haircuts.

That’s legit, Hartsell said of the untold amounts spent on his tonsorial upkeep, because were he not in the Senate, he might become a hippie and let his locks grow unregulated. In justifying charging part of his license renewal fee to his campaign, he reportedly told the board he didn’t know if he would drive the five cars he owns were he not in the Senate.

For even attempting that kind of obfuscation, I say let him skate, your honor.

One area where Hartsell should not be criticized or given the stinkeye for questionable spending is his footwear. He obviously believed getting shoes repaired rather than just buying new ones better served his constituents. He spent over $600 at H&H Shoe Repair fixing the same two pairs 19 times.

That, one would think, is the kind of fiscal accountability we should demand of all public servants, right?

I didn’t ask Liz, the very personable lady who works at H&H, specifically about Hartsell’s kicks, but she said it isn’t unusual for people to bring in the same pair of shoes over and over and over. “Some are in good shape on top, some are pretty torn up, but they just don’t want to get rid of them. Shoot, we’ve had some people, usually men because they keep their shoes longer than women, who might’ve had their shoes for 20 years,” she said.

If that’s a crime, convict me too, your honor.

My lucky shirt

No way should he be faulted for being unduly fond of a particular pair of Air Hartsells, if that was the case, for who among us hasn’t had a favorite garment with which we couldn’t bear to part even after it had passed its “toss out” date?

For me, it was my lucky T-shirt. Seems that every time I wore that bad boy on a dinner date, something delightful happened: for instance, they’d put an extra shrimp in my grits or forget to charge me for that second bowl of ’nanner pudding. It’s retired now, but I’ve had it for more than 35 years and it is now just a collection of disintegrating, transparent strands held together by rumors of fabric.

Perhaps Hartsell’s oft-repaired shoes occupied an equally esteemed place in his wardrobe – especially since his willingness to work with Democrats means he spends more time than most of his colleagues walking across the aisle.

It may be, alas, easy for Hartsell to vote against raising the minimum wage or the debt ceiling or bailing out U.S. banks or helping farmers if he has a publicly funded piggy bank from which to pay off his 10 – count ’em, TEN – credit cards.

Hmm, where might one sign up for that kind of fiscal conservatism?

Hartsell has vowed to defend himself against the allegations “with the same commitment to transparency and integrity I have brought to all my public service.”

Uh-oh. Lets hope that one pair of the footwear he had re-soled was waders – because it’s fixing to get deep in that courtroom.

Saunders: 919-836-2811 or bsaunders@newsobserver.com

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