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Monday, March 4, 2024

The “quintessential Democrat good old boy” and the auditor’s mishap

Veteran political observers weren’t surprised to learn that State Auditor Beth Wood’s vehicular mishaps were connected to a holiday party hosted by former Secretary of State Rufus Edmisten.

And a look back at the scandal that tanked Edmisten’s political career back in 1996 turns up a few somewhat ironic parallels.

These days, Edmisten is something of a senior statesman, with The News & Observer once describing him as “North Carolina’s quintessential Democrat good old boy” and a “folksy, funny, flask-and-cash-in-pocket friend to all.” He makes periodic public appearances talking about his time as a top aide to U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin during the Watergate investigation. He hosts a weekly gardening radio show on WPTF, and he’s registered as a lobbyist for software company Salesforce and for Richard Frye, a Southern Pines businessman who’s involved with real estate and gambling machines.

Edmisten resigned as secretary of state in 1996 after a run-in with a different state auditor. Then-auditor Ralph Campbell found that Edmisten and his staff took extravagant trips on the taxpayer dime and made questionable purchases. He also found that he’d used employees as his personal drivers and assigned them to do work on his home.

The State Bureau of Investigation did its own report but determined there were no grounds for criminal charges, the N&O reported at the time. One detail from that report sticks out in light of recent events: Edmisten allegedly requested a State Capitol Police car to take him to a Tina Turner concert.

He later admitted to the SBI that he was drunk at the time and shouldn’t have used a police driver, who said that the secretary of state was “drinking from a flask while riding in the marked car.”

It seems Council of State members still have yet to learn that perhaps they shouldn’t use state-owned vehicles to get to social functions.

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