SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Is Gov. Easley's Teflon Peeling Away?
Gov. Mike Easley's popularity among North Carolinians can largely be traced to his image as the anti-politician.
Whether it's climbing inside a race car or that aw-shucks demeanor, Easley isn't seen as the typical politician.
And it's not all image. In private, Easley is personable and funny. Sometimes he seems as if he doesn't have a care in the world.
Until recently, the Easley administration had also been able to avoid any of the meaty scandals that often dog multi-term governors.
But two land deals in his second term ended the scandal-free run. One, in Caldwell County, involved the state purchase of property in which campaign donations from the former owners followed; the other involved the personal purchase of a sound-front lot in Carteret County that many saw as a sweetheart deal that only came about because of his office.
Now a published report from The Charlotte Observer has put another chink in the Easley armor.
The article, written by reporter David Ingram, outlines how two top Easley staffers helped Jo Ann Sanford, the former chair of the state Utilities Commission, line up private consulting work. The piece said the two aides -- Alan Hirsch and Hawley Truax -- even suggested changes to consulting contracts that Sanford entered into with Duke Energy and four other companies. They also tried to line up state-owned office space for Sanford.
An Easley spokeswoman said her boss didn't know about the contract arrangements until afterward. She called the actions "inappropriate."
Inappropriate? Kind of like calling global warming or nuclear war a "concern."
Hirsch and Truax should be fired.
And the public ought to question why Easley, if his claim is true that he didn't know about the arrangement, has no better handle on what his top aides are up to. The claim suggests a disturbing lack of involvement with the day-to-day operations of his office.
A few months back, an audience of reporters and others listened for several days in federal court while the business dealings of former lottery commissioner Kevin Geddings were revealed.
The revelations suggested that Geddings, who was convicted of fraud, improperly benefited as a South Carolina political consultant because of his ties to the administration of that state's former governor, Jim Hodges. Testimony also showed ties between Geddings and Easley political consultants, perhaps explaining why he decided to seek greener pastures here after Hodges lost a bid for a second term.
According to my own sources, Geddings, prior to his lottery commission appointment, called around looking for consulting business associated with major telecommunications legislation passed by the General Assembly last year. He was doing so during a period when the plans were still on BellSouth's drawing board and the only public entity notified that legislation might be coming was the governor's office.
These are the kinds of shenanigans that a governor must stop, or his public will only conclude that he is a part of them.
And the Easley Teflon will quickly peel away.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at email@example.com
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