RALEIGH – On hearing of the resolve of North Carolina troops during a Civil War battle, tradition holds that General Robert E. Lee had this praise for the Almighty: “Thank God for the Tar Heel boys.” He might have something less flattering to say about the Tar Heel State’s new favorite sons, John Edwards and Mike Easley.
Edwards, a one-term senator from North Carolina and vice presidential running mate for John Kerry in 2004, has been a feature of national headlines since admitting last summer to an extra-marital affair. The story is not unique — the phrase “adulterous politician” has become something of a tautology — but alleged financial malfeasance associated with the tryst has added to Edwards’ entropy.
So, too, has the fact that Edwards broke his marriage vows while his wife, Elizabeth, was suffering from breast cancer. In 2007, Edwards decided to continue his ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination despite his wife’s illness. Elizabeth says in a new memoir that news of her husband’s affair made her cry, scream, and vomit.
Now, federal attorneys are probing whether Edwards skirted the law by diverting campaign funds to pay his mistress. Edwards denies any wrongdoing, but his public support has eroded to the point that he couldn’t be elected dogcatcher, let alone to statewide or federal office. A poll in mid-May found that a Bush-esque 69 percent of North Carolinians have an unfavorable opinion of him.
Edwards is not alone in his Blagojevich-type behavior. Although the story hasn’t gained the national spotlight yet, the misdeeds of a second North Carolina politician have caught the attention of federal investigators in recent weeks. Mike Easley, a former prosecutor and attorney general, left office in January after serving eight years as governor. Two months later, the capital city’s newspaper, the News & Observer of Raleigh, began an exposé on the former governor’s many conflicts of interest while in office.
Documents show that Easley received cushy automobile arrangements from a businessman while serving as governor, in addition to a sweet real estate deal in which Easley bought a coastal lot for half of what it appraised for a year later, a situation the Feds are now looking into.