Thursday, July 10, 2008
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A longtime North Carolina state employee has chosen to retire instead of lowering flags to honor former Sen. Jesse Helms, saying in an e-mail that the late conservative had a "doctrine of negativity, hate and prejudice."
U.S. and state flags flew at half-staff on Monday and Tuesday following an order from Gov. Mike Easley. Helms died Friday.
L.F. Eason III, director of the state Standards Laboratory — which calibrates equipment for critical measurements such as the weight of medicines or trucks on a highway — told his staff to ignore the directive. He sent workers an e-mail saying he didn't think it was appropriate.
"I don't see how anybody could celebrate his career," the 51-year-old said in an interview, noting Helms' opposition to the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the filibuster to stall the effort to make Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. "Everything he did was such a disservice to this state."
Eason, who had worked for 29 years at the Department of Agriculture, requested the option to retire Monday after his superiors overruled his decision and ordered the flags be lowered. Eason wrote an e-mail to the governor and other supervisors saying he could not in good conscience honor Helms.
The governor's orders were for state agencies to keep the flags lowered until Tuesday at sunset — after Helms' funeral and burial. The flags were flying at full-staff Wednesday.
A spokesman with the agriculture department did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Ironically, Eason's unyielding stance mirrored the man he refused to honor. Helms steadfastly stood by his positions throughout his career, frustrating fellow lawmakers for an unwillingness to compromise.
Helms' political career made him a lightning rod for controversy. He entered politics in helping elect segregationist candidate Willis Smith to the Senate in 1950 and continued a drumbeat of racial division until his final campaign in 1996.
The conservative icon also clashed with gay activists by opposing domestic AIDS treatment.
"I can't say my hardheadedness is the same as his," Eason said. "Maybe it is the same level of conviction. I'd like to think that it's more righteous than Jesse's."