State jet ferries Martin to Helms' funeral

Former Republican Gov. Jim Martin got a free ride to Jesse Helms' funeral Tuesday – courtesy of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley.

Easley's office offered Martin a ride aboard the Cessna Citation the governor often uses on state business. Flight records show the 8-passenger jet picked Martin up in Concord in the morning and flew him to Raleigh and back again after the funeral. “I was happy to accept that, it saved a couple hours each way,” said Martin, who lives on Lake Norman. “I thought it was a nice gesture.”

The plane costs $770 per hour to operate, according to a spokeswoman for the state Department of Commerce, which owns it. The two round-trips took a total of less than two hours, according to flight records. Martin appeared to be the lone passenger.

Easley spokesman Seth Effron said the Democratic governor offered the plane “as a matter of protocol and professional courtesy to the former governor because this was a matter of state.”

Former Republican Gov. Jim Holshouser of Southern Pines also attended the funeral.

“If taxpayers would object to that,” Martin said of the trip, “it probably won't happen again.”