RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley claims it is not a big deal that he lost the endorsement of the State Employees Association, but WRAL has learned he did make at least one last attempt to get in the group's good graces.
Days before the State Employees Association endorsed Patrick Ballantine for governor, representatives met with both Ballantine and Easley. In a letter, the governor tried to resolve a two-year-old conflict about whether Health and Human Services employees should get time off for Association activities. Association leaders question the timing.
"There's no question we would have liked the administration to have solved this issue two or three years ago when it first surfaced," said Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
"I never had any attempt to try to get this little political group's endorsement," Easley said.
Easley maintains he tried to address the issue before, but he said there were concerns about giving time off to state employees who are partly paid with federal funds.
Easley said recently that new guidelines were worked out, but Patrick Ballantine is certain Easley hoped this would help him win over state employees.
"I'm sure he did. I mean this is huge. This is an incredible, historic endorsement for me," Ballantine said.
Association leaders said the decision is based on more than just this particular conflict, but observers say Easley's letter was clearly too little, too late.
"The perception is that he had to be persuaded to do that as opposed to just naturally allowing state employees to attend Association meetings," McLennan said.
The state's personnel office is still working on the new guidelines, but they include three paid days off for elected delegates to attend the association's convention next week.