By Tzar Wilkerson
The North Carolina Museum of History will host the debut of Rufus Edmisten’s memoir, aptly named “That’s Rufus: A Memoir of Tar Heel Politics, Watergate and Public Life” on Thursday, May 30 from 6- 9 p.m., including a reception to be held in the museum’s lobby. Admission is free, but the museum asks that attendees register in advance to hear Edmisten speak. For the unacquainted, Rufus Edmiston (or just “Rufus”, as he prefers to be called) has been a key figure in both the Watergate investigation and years of North Carolina law and government – he is undoubtedly someone who has stories to tell.
Road to Office
Born in 1941 in Boone, NC, to Walter and Neil Edmiston, Rufus’s mountain farmboy upbringing instilled him with an integrity that he maintained throughout his political career – a career that began early, with his election to student body president at Appalachian High School in 1959. Rufus then earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, graduating in 1963 and began attending George Washington University School of Law in Washington, D.C
A Career in Washington
He was still attending night classes at George Washington University when he joined the staff of NC Senator Sam J. Ervin Jr, and was appointed counsel for the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Constitutional Rights upon his graduation in 1966. “Edmisten specialized in civil rights legislation, especially for Native Americans, and the separation of church and state. In 1969, Senator Ervin named him chief counsel and staff director for the Subcommittee on Separation of Powers.
Edmisten’s time on Capital Hill culminated with his appointment in 1972 as deputy chief counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, popularly known as the Watergate Committee. As part of his work on the committee, Edmisten served the subpoena to President Nixon for the tapes of recorded White House conversations that provided evidence of the cover-up of the Watergate break-in and the ensuing destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses. It was the first time in history that a congressional committee had served a subpoena on a sitting president.
Return to North Carolina
Watergate ended, and Rufus came home to be North Carolina’s attorney general, winning his first full term in 1976, a second in 1980. In 1984, he was beaten by Republican Jim Martin for the governor’s office thanks to a fractured Democratic Party and the popular President Ronald Reagan. He was stunned by the setback, but came back to serve as North Carolina’s Secretary of State, possibly believing it would be his launch to a U.S. Senate seat. But then he was, he says, a victim of his own hubris, and he resigned the office under fire.
Law Firm and Recent Activities
After his failed gubernatorial campaign, Edmisten practiced law in Raleigh with Regan H. Weaver for four years. In 1988, he was elected secretary of state and was reelected in 1992. As secretary of state, his accomplishments included the creation of the Foundation for Good Business and working with the General Assembly to establish Limited Liability Corporations in North Carolina. His second term was tainted by a critical review by the state auditor in 1994 and a full-scale investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation in 1996. The investigation, which focused on use of state vehicles, telephones, and employee time for political activity and personal favors, ended with no charges filed against the secretary of state.
Edmisten has published cookbooks (a campaign strategy) and he’s made thousands of speeches in every county in North Carolina over a political career that turned him to a legal career and forever, a career in the spotlight. Oh, yes, Rufus Edmisten has never been one for false modesty. And so he comes again to that light, launching a final campaign, perhaps, to share his stories with people across North Carolina. Proceeds from his book will go to his Super Kids Foundation, which has helped hundreds of disadvantaged children all over North Carolina in the last 25 years.
According to Rufus’s website, “Rufus lives in Raleigh with his wife Linda. They share their lives with an assortment of dogs, cats, and horses, as well as family and friends.” Written with humor and candor, his memoir recalls the cultural contrasts of American life in the 1970s and 1980s, and affirms that the business of government is to enable us to live together peacefully.
Citation: “Abstract” and “Biographical Information”, in the Rufus Edmisten Papers #5528, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hil