I-Team pulls back the curtain on Gov. Easley
RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Jim Hughes was a fraternity brother of former Governor Mike Easley when they were both underclassmen at UNC Chapel Hill.
"He was a great guy. I'm telling you he was one of the most likable people you'll ever meet. We were lucky to have him at the Phi Gam house," Hughes recalled in a recent interview with ABC11 investigative reporter Steve Daniels.
Hughes remembers Easley as the young guy who grew up around the family tobacco warehouses in Rocky Mount, the UNC student during the tumultuous early 70s, and the fraternity brother at the Phi Gamma Delta house.
"He was a straight arrow. He was the ultimate Boy Scout. As far as I know, nobody ever saw him drunk. He was studious. He was funny. He had a wicked little wit," said Hughes.
And Hughes recalls Easley was always incredibly frugal.
"He always held on to a dollar. The story is true [that] he went on a beach weekend and left with five bucks and came back with 10," said Hughes.
"Was he a leader at the university or at the fraternity?" asked Daniels.
"Not to any great degree," said Hughes.
"You describe him as an outsider, and secret and remote and unreachable?" asked Daniels.
"At the core, yes," said Hughes. "There was always something very quiet about him, something inaccessible. Later, we find out that he has dyslexia."
Hughes says the guys around the fraternity house had no idea that Easley struggled with a learning disability.
"It wasn't until later we discovered he's dyslexic and he can't even read a menu," said Hughes.
Hughes says Easley's classmates would read lessons out loud to him and he found a way around taking notes in class.
"He would tape-record the lectures. So, he developed this incredible memory, which he had to, to get through," said Hughes. "He had to work harder than anyone else, but it's interesting he never told anybody about that."
"That was his secret?" asked Daniels.
"That was his secret," said Hughes.
"It's really an inspiring story. Here's a guy who makes it through law school, becomes a district attorney, attorney general and is twice elected governor?" said Daniels.
"Right, right," said Hughes. "It's a story that shows his character, what a strong character he has. Not only did he not tell anyone about it or use it as an excuse, but he overcame it."
Hughes is now a public relations and marketing consultant in Raleigh. He recently researched and wrote a story about Mike Easley for Metro Magazine called "The last of the frat boy governors."
It's a story reflecting on Easley's college days and his years in office.
"There was so much more that we expected of him. He just didn't live up to what he could've accomplished," said Hughes.
"You describe him as disengaged as governor?" asked Daniels.
"He spent an awful lot of time in Southport, which is where his home is. He spent way too much time on the golf course," said Hughes.
"It sounds like you're saying he was somewhat reclusive?" said Daniels.
"I think that's a good word for it. Reclusive is a good way to describe it," said Hughes. "There is a part of him that seems incapable of dealing with people on a broad scale. One-on-one or through the camera, there's nobody better."
Hughes says when it was time for Easley to give a speech, he had a way to navigate around his dyslexia.
"He would gather information and have it brought to him and read to him, and then he would put it to together and practice in front of a mirror," Hughes explained.
Now, for the first time since college, the former governor is out of public service and dealing with a federal grand jury investigation of some of his financial dealings.
Hughes does not think Easley will be indicted.
"He's built corruption cases. He knows the law. That's why I think he likely has not done anything to be convicted of," said Hughes.
But Hughes is concerned about Easley's record as North Carolina's governor.
"I think the biggest failing of the Easley administration was at the core there was no coherent vision, there was no sense of where they wanted to go and what they wanted to accomplish for the people of North Carolina," he said.
And Hughes says Easley mishandled his relationship with reporters.
"He antagonized the media unnecessarily. He did not make media relations a priority," said Hughes.
"You say he blew it? He wasted his potential?" Daniels asked.
"I think there's so much more he could've led us into. Great leaders take us places we think we don't want to go, and I think Mike had the gift to be a great leader and in the end he fell short of what he could do," Hughes said.
Grand jury investigations are secret and we don't know where the process stands. Easley's former top aide Ruffin Poole pleaded guilty and is now going to provide potentially damaging testimony about his former boss.
mike easley, local/state, steve daniels
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