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Return of Count Ed

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Dracula can't stop biting necks and Ed Bethune can't stop debasing Arkansas politics. Persistence is but one of the traits they share.

Bethune swooped into Little Rock the other day to endorse Tim Griffin, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives seat that Bethune once held himself, until the peasants broke down the door. The affinity is obvious, Griffin being a rather nasty piece of work on his own, and a protege of Karl Rove, than whom there is no work nastier. Griffin's preparation for the office of congressman includes the diligent removal of black voters from registration lists in Florida.

But even such a man as that can be tarnished by a kiss from Ed Bethune. The days when Bethune was running for public office in Arkansas were peculiar times indeed. Once, he called a news conference to announce that he would not make an issue of the fact that his opponent had belonged to the American Civil Liberties Union, in the same way that Richard Nixon called press conferences to announce that he would never accuse his opponent of Communism, no matter how strong the evidence, which he just happened to have brought with him. Against another opponent, Bethune edited a tape recording to boldly misrepresent the other fellow's position, and put it on the air as the real thing. After rejection by the voters, Bethune became president and CEO of First Federal Savings and Loan, the largest S&L in Arkansas, while simultaneously serving as chairman of the state Republican Party. When Bethune took the helm at First Federal in January of 1987, the institution had total assets of $1.7 billion. By August of '87, First Federal was $22.1 million in the hole. Bethune resigned in September, departing by golden parachute. He got $368,000 for his services, including $259,000 in severance pay and $109,000 of his $200,000 annual salary. First Federal ended that fiscal year $83.9 million in the red. It collapsed in June 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of $833 million. Around the same time, Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which had been headed by Jim McDougal, a friend of President Bill Clinton, went under at a cost of $73 million. The federal Resolution Trust Corporation, Republican-controlled at the time, spent 13 hours investigating First Federal, and 5,661 hours investigating Madison Guaranty, despite an FBI memo that said the affairs of First Federal were believed to have “much greater prosecutive potential.” Bethune went on to Washington to be an “ethics adviser” to Newt Gingrich. What else was he suited for?

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