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 TIME CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics with Congressional Quarterly

Catching The Starr Bug

By Adam Zagorin

TIME magazine

(TIME, October 5) -- The Starr Method, invented and deployed in Washington, has made its way to the states. Call it the Starr Devolution. In South Carolina this week, allies of Jim Hodges, the Democrat running against G.O.P. Governor David Beasley, plan to ask Beasley about--you guessed it--infidelity. In a political twist that surely has both parties' elders shuddering, the Democrats will attempt to depose Beasley on Thursday at a law office just a few blocks from the Governor's office. A Democratic Party lawyer, Cameron Lewis, tells TIME he has no intention of subjecting Beasley to the kind of detailed grand jury inquisition undergone by President Clinton. But he does plan to ask the Governor to answer, under oath, "if he has used his office to conduct sexual activity."

Beasley has yet to say whether he will show up to be sworn. But this localized bit of Monica madness comes after published reports linking the born-again darling of the Christian right to a state employee who received a large raise before she resigned last year to spend more time with her family. Those accounts and widespread rumors, which have appeared in print with no evidence to back them up, helped persuade lawyers for the state Democratic Party to take a cue from Starr and file a Freedom of Information Act request last June demanding the official schedule of Beasley and his key aides, including state credit-card receipts, e-mail, computer records and recorded phone messages. "We need to find out what he has been doing for the past four years and whether the private material he will not release is indicative of extramarital contact," says a senior Democratic Party strategist. Perhaps following the Clinton model, the Governor's camp has yet to comply with the exhaustive requisition, citing time constraints and the need for confidentiality, and labeling the FOIA request a politically motivated fishing expedition.

Both Beasley and his wife deny the reports of an affair, and the last time one of Beasley's opponents raised them, he did not get very far. James Metts, a Republican county sheriff, made them an issue when he launched an independent bid for Governor last year. Metts managed to come up with a lilting musical ditty: "To start, he takes a beautiful girl, pays her 90 thou and goes for a whirl. Reporters ask, 'What about wife No. 1?' But David just wants to have fun." Metts eventually apologized, withdrew from the race and endorsed Beasley.

But in this round, Hodges is catching up to Beasley in the polls, riding a freaky wave of money and support. A former state legislator and a corporate lawyer, Hodges touts tax revenues from gambling as the best way to fund South Carolina's crumbling education system, and grateful video-poker barons have rewarded him with heavy campaign contributions. Beasley has made himself an enemy of the state's gambling interests by calling for a ban on video poker and opposing a referendum on introducing a state lottery.

If Beasley is in trouble, it's also because he sometimes treats truth as less than a close relative. Addressing Christian athletes, the Governor claimed he had run the 100-yd. dash in a Superman-worthy 9.5 sec. He also maintained, incorrectly, that he had earned a degree in microbiology. His worst tactical mistake may have been the decision to air, beginning two weeks ago, an ad against Hodges showing his opponent's face morphing into Bill Clinton's as an announcer intones, "There's a difference in what he says and what he does ... Remind you of anybody?" His Democratic challenger's response: "Beasley reminds folks of Bill Clinton a lot more than Jim Hodges does."

-- With reporting by Timothy Roche/Columbia


Cover Date: October 5, 1998

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