Traditionally, if that word can be used to introduce a sentence about political corruption, the transportation boss is the governor's top fund-raiser, and seats on the state Board of Transportation go to key bagmen. Together, they control where roads go, and therefore development. Favored developers and construction firms show gratitude with checks made out to the governor's next campaign.
We know this because, sometimes, subtlety eludes these folks and they get caught in a (gasp) quid pro quo. That happened often enough in Gov. Hunt's administration that he was forced to fire one transportation secretary, Garland Garrett, and bow in the direction of reform by naming a successor, Norris Tolson, capable of cleaning up the mess. Tolson, most people think, did just that, but then went on a fool's errand--he tried, and failed, to beat Meg Scott Phipps in the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner.
So now, Easley. Will he name a Tolson-style reformer, maybe even Tolson himself, and signal that the days of roads-for-cash are over? Or will he name a "traditional" secretary? R.V. Owens, a former member of the Board of Transportation from Dare County, is said to want the job and maybe even have the inside track. Owens, Senate President pro Tem Marc Basnight's nephew, was credited with putting together Easley's single biggest fundraiser this year, a $4,000-a-plate, $1.4 million dinner at the Grandover Hotel in Greensboro, and with getting Andy Griffith to do that winning "I know you" commercial for Easley at the finish line. His appointment will signal that Easley's just an old-fashioned guy at heart.