It was a day for the books, maybe even the history books. In a meeting room at a downtown Raleigh hotel, the immediate past governor of North Carolina sat for nearly five hours to answer questions from members of the board that oversees state elections. Mike Easley has been a man of silent mystery for these past months, as the embarrassing stories about his perks and connections and campaign finances have swirled.
Federal prosecutors are investigating, and Easley could have declined to answer questions. But he confidently took the challenge. It would be fair to say that he was unruffled, even affable, and offered what in his view were plausible explanations for some of the issues that have come under scrutiny.
On what a car dealer admitted was an unusual deal in which the governor paid his tab at the end of a lease, Easley said Fayetteville dealer Bobby Bleeker had simply provided a "loose arrangement."
And what of an implication from friend and pilot McQueen Campbell, in his appearance before the board, that Campbell had thought he was supposed to submit invoices for phantom airplane flights to cover the costs of repairs Campbell handled at the governor's private home in Raleigh? (The bills apparently were paid with campaign money, which was legal at that time.) The governor said that simply was not the understanding. His testimony was directly at odds with Campbell's.
The federal probe is not yet over, and the outcome of the elections board hearing is yet to be seen. But yesterday's appearance by Easley was gripping both for the windows it offered on Easley himself and because this was an exceptional event -- sworn testimony by a former governor at the dead center of an ongoing drama.
To read the complete editorial, visit The (Raleigh) News & Observer.