It was shocking news to read that Claude Allen, President Bush's longtime chief domestic-policy adviser and a guy Bush had once hoped would sit on the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, had been busted for "refund fraud" at Target and Hecht's stores in Maryland.
Allen, 45, resigned his White House post in early February amid various speculation. Only last week did his refund problems come to light.
I haven't seen or talked to Allen since the early 80s. I knew him then as a young campaign aide to Republican congressional candidate Bill Cobey, who lost in 1982. I was a young reporter for a small daily newspaper.
The district appeared ripe for a GOP takeover. The county I lived and worked in was heavily Republican, Orange County where Cobey had been athletic director at the University of North Carolina was heavily Democratic and populous Wake County (Raleigh, N.C.) held the balance. The Democratic opponent had been in Congress for more than a decade and had an uninspiring record at best.
Cobey seemed a shoo-in after the incumbent Democrat, the likeable, but irascible Ike Andrews got arrested for DUI in Raleigh. But, alas, silver-haired Andrews incredibly used the arrest to his advantage. It invigorated his campaign like, well, a shot of whiskey. And riding the coattails of a popular Democratic sheriff in Wake County certainly helped.
As a reporter covering politics in a newspaper in a key county for the GOP effort, I talked to Allen regularly during the campaign.
I found one article that called him Karl Rove's 'enforcer" during the time he was working for Tommy Thompson at the Department of Health and Human Services. And he once refered to Helms' Senate opponent Jim Hunt (a popular Democratic governor) as having ties to "queers."
The guy I knew was always polite, smart, reasonable and conservative to the core. I never heard him raise his voice. And certainly in the early 80s, he was one of the few young black conservatives visibly on the way up. Allen isn't just a Republican; he's what one would call in North Carolina a "Helms Republican." That puts him a good ways right of right.
He became the first black aide to the colorful and feisty "Senator No" in the mid-80s.
Allen, born in Philly, has a law degree from Duke, an undergraduate degree in political science from UNC and eventually developed a conservative record that drew the praise of the religious right and family values conservative crowd, and whose nomination to the federal bench galvanized the left to mount a successful campaign to derail his nomination.
You have to wonder what a key aide to the president is thinking when they, according to a Montgomery County Police Department release, sought "throughout 2005 ... refunds for items ranging from clothing, a Bose theater system, stereo equipment, and photo printer to items valued only at $2.50."
It's a sad chapter.