Mark Washburn

You have to understand: Mary Easley is an artist

Really, now. That's quite enough snarcasm. It must stop.

If no one else has the courage, it shall fall to me to defend Mary Easley.

Folks are making fun of the governor's wife for touring Europe on cultural-exchange missions at taxpayer expense. A mere $109,000.

Why the outrage? It pains me to point out that a weekend trip to Myrtle Beach and a big family chow-down at the Smithfield buffet on Highway 74 does not make you an expert on international diplomacy.

Allow me to educate.

On such foreign assignments, it is essential one maintains a posture of elegant comportment. You never know when you might run into Prince Andrew or Posh Spice.

To solidify friendly relations, it is important to dine on the local fare. Thus, in Russia, the honorable Easley delegation appropriately selected pheasant, black truffles and foie gras. Their bill came under $627, which if you know anything about foie gras, means they probably went to the early bird.

Transportation is a problem in Paris, where the snooty cab drivers pretend not to understand when you ask crystal-clear questions like Ou est la Palace de Buckingham?”

Best policy is to hire a vehicle, and that's exactly what the Easley mission did. They chose the sensible Mercedes SUV and rented it for a prudent $27,000. This saved taxpayers $59.73 over the cost of actually buying it.

It cannot be overstated how crucial it is to North Carolina's cultural destiny to build bridges with the Republic of Estonia. Easley and her attaches recognized that this nation is in a historical period of artistic vitality, meaning it is not currently occupied by Vikings, Nazis or Communists.

Estonia might one day send us native treasures for display in the N.C. Museum of Art, which is located in a cow pasture west of Raleigh. This is big business. Officials say an exhibition of Monet art there had an economic impact of $20 million.

This figure is reached by using the “multiplier effect,” a fiduciary formula that shows how every dollar spent on coming to Raleigh to gaze upon canvas is spent again and again in the economy.

For example, art purists drawn to Monet surely stopped at the Circle K in Cary on their way home to purchase a corn dog. This money goes back to corn providers, who spend it again, until 20 million people are enriched.

So we must consider international cultural safaris a smart investment. Those who say the money could be better spent – say, on teacher salaries – are just not educated on the facts.

Teachers are already penciled in for a 2 1/2 percent raise.

Some teachers are doing even better.

At N.C. State University, a person holding the title “executive in residence in the office of the provost with the rank of senior lecturer in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences,” is looking at about an 80 percent raise this month. From $90,300 to $170,000.

Her name is Mary Easley. And she's quite an artist.