One of my neighbors is a New Jersey transplant (insert your own joke here), and in a sidewalk chat the other day he remarked on the extraordinary amount of news recently about insider dealing, pocket-lining, and general sleaziness among our elected officials in North Carolina. I thought: Boy, when a guy from Jersey is complaining about our political corruption, things must really be bad.
What I realized is that reading the daily trickle of news about former Gov. Mike Easley, his wife and his various henchmen/stooges is like watching a faucet with a slow drip — the individual drops don’t seem like much until somebody points out that a bathtub’s worth of water has gone down the drain. That’s what we’re experiencing in North Carolina politics now. The accumulated weight of current allegations, past convictions and moral turpitude (I’m looking in your direction, John Edwards) is enough to make a Chicago alderman look away in shame. Or come here for lessons.
The greater problem is that political corruption is particularly tenacious. Like kudzu, it spreads relentlessly in all directions. The Easleys didn’t leave questions hanging over just the governor’s mansion. Their employment — Mike as governor, Mary as a glorified, highly overpaid events coordinator at N.C. State University — also left both the university system and the N.C. Highway Patrol facing investigations. In fact, between the Easleys and Edwards, the federal grand jury in Raleigh sees more traffic in and out of its chambers these days than a mining-town bordello.
But my neighbor is the best barometer. If he’s sentimental about the relative honesty of New Jersey, we’ve got a serious image problem.