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Opinion
Each Monday, Tommy Tomlinson delivers thoughtful commentary on an important topic in the news. Through these perspectives, he seeks to find common ground that leads to deeper understanding of complex issues and that helps people relate to what others are feeling, even if they don’t agree.

On My Mind: Pardoned, But Not Forgotten

Robin Hayes
Steve Harrison
/
WFAE
Robin Hayes drives away from a court date.

So now we have a new president, Joe Biden. And we have a new ex-president, whose name I’m not going to mention unless it’s absolutely necessary.

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But before we sweep that guy completely out the door, I want to mention one last bit of nasty business that affects us here in North Carolina. And that’s the presidential pardon of Robin Hayes.

The pardon has always been an option for the American president. George Washington did it, and so has nearly every president of both parties since. Sometimes the pardon is to right an injustice; President Franklin Pierce pardoned a free Black man who had harbored runaway slaves as part of the Underground Railroad. Other times, presidents pardon donors or business associates or political allies. President Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon.

In North Carolina, they might as well call it the NASCAR pardon. President Reagan pardoned Junior Johnson for his moonshining conviction. President Clinton pardoned current team owner Rick Hendrick for a much less entertaining crime – mail fraud involving a kickback scheme to Honda executives. Hendrick’s nephew, Jamie Hayes, got a pardon from our most recent ex-president after being convicted in an insider-trading scandal. Maybe this is what they mean in NASCAR races when they talk about the wave-around rule.

But the pardon I want to pay attention to this morning is the one for Robin Hayes, the former state legislator from Concord.

Hayes was chairman of the state Republican Party in 2018, when Durham billionaire Greg Lindberg came to him with a request. Lindberg was having problems with a regulator in the state insurance commissioner’s office. Lindberg wanted to pay off Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey with $2 million in campaign contributions to get rid of the regulator. He asked Hayes to be the go-between for part of the bribe. Hayes said yes.

But Causey alerted the FBI. And when the FBI asked Hayes about his role in the attempted bribe, Hayes lied.

Once he was busted, he cooperated with federal prosecutors who went after Lindberg. So Hayes got probation instead of prison time. And now, thanks to our most recent ex-president, he gets to walk away with a clean slate.

But you know how, when you erase a chalkboard, sometimes you can still see the faint lines of what was there before? Here is Robin Hayes’ permanent shadow. He held a powerful position as chairman of the state GOP. He agreed to help bribe a state official to help out a billionaire. And when he got caught, he lied about it.

One of the reasons politicians do corrupt things is that the system often helps them get away with it. Sometimes all the rest of us have left is memory. Robin Hayes left a stain on the state and the party he was supposed to represent. Officially, he’s forgiven. But let’s make sure that what he did is not forgotten.