Easley pleads guilty, skates away one last time

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Mike Easley
  • Mike Easley in the courthouse
Former Gov. Mike Easley just entered a guilty plea to a single count of filing a false campaign finance report in connection with his 2006 re-election campaign. He was fined $1,000 plus court costs — no jail time at all.

The plea brings to an end the long investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office and a separate investigation initiated by the State Board of Elections which resulted in a referral to a local district attorney. The SBOE fined Easley's campaign committee $100,000. Nobody else laid a glove on him.

Corruption? Easley was far too disconnected from the actual workings of government to get caught doing favors for his campaign contributors. They were supposed to do favors for him. If they wanted something in return, that's what Ruffin Poole was for.

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So, on the charge that Easley violated some campaign reporting laws, he did — serially — and was allowed to get away with pleading guilty to one bad deed. Interestingly, the law he admitted to violating was a misdemeanor at the time (2006) but now it's a felony, so at least Easley may now lose his law license.

The real story of Easley's governorship, however, is that for eight years he was a no-show governor, a man who for whatever reason — and there are lots of theories about this, but why bother with them now — put as little time and effort into his position as possible. He used people (young Poole; McQueen Campbell) and they indulged him because he was the governor and they were trading on the acquaintance. Sometimes their indulgences violated an ethics or campaign finance law, but that's almost a technicality compared to the real violation, which was Easley's abuse of the public's trust.

The four things that stand out in my mind about Mike Easley are:

1) the so-called Smithfield Agreement, which Easley presented to the world in 1999 as a timetable for the hog industry to clean up its waste cesspools ("lagoons") within five years, but which in fact allowed the cesspools to remain in operation to this day;

2) the tobacco settlement, which Easley presented to the world as a bitter pill for the tobacco industry but which in fact let the tobacco companies keep on keeping on selling their deadly products;

3) mental health reform, which was anything but; the closing of Dorothea Dix Hospital and its replacement with a new mental health facility on the grounds of Central Prison tells us all we need to know about the treatment of the mentally ill during Mike Easley's governorship.

4) the 27 men executed at Central Prison while Easley was governor, all of them after what was supposed to be the most careful review of their cases by Easley himself; given how fictional the rest of his governorship was, how real were those reviews do you think?

What a crock he was.

For most of his tenure as governor (2001-09) and for the previous eight years as attorney general, Easley was the beneficiary of good economic times thanks to, first, the high-tech bubble, and second, the housing bubble. Point being, state revenues were flush and Easley could bounce along as a Bubble A.G. and then a Bubble Governor, popping up for the occasional public event only to disappear again to Southport on a plane piloted by the Campbell McQueens of the world.

He didn't have to do much. He didn't do much. And what he did do was often worse than if he'd done nothing at all.

His only real job — and the one he so dreadfully neglected — was to be an effective front man for the Democratic party, explaining to regular people why government programs could be a good thing. His legacy: Most people think state government stinks to high heaven, and they've just put the Republicans in charge of it for the first time in 112 years.

It does piss me off that that Easley got away with his act for 16 years. He was always a charlatan and was pretty much winking at us whenever he did deign to show up somewhere. But around him his aides and complicit Democrats created the myth of Mike Easley the serious, studious governor who couldn't reveal his day-to-day whereabouts for security reasons (!). The press pretty much swallowed it — and the public was in the dark.

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