Mike Easley

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Mike Easley
Mike Easley.jpg
72nd[1] Governor of North Carolina
In office
January 6, 2001 – January 10, 2009
Lieutenant Beverly Perdue
Preceded by Jim Hunt
Succeeded by Beverly Perdue
47th North Carolina Attorney General
In office
January 9, 1993 – January 6, 2001
Governor Jim Hunt
Preceded by Lacy Thornburg
Succeeded by Roy A. Cooper
Personal details
Born Michael Francis Easley
(1950-03-23) March 23, 1950 (age 64)
Rocky Mount, North Carolina
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Mary Easley
Residence Charlotte, North Carolina
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina Central University
Profession Lawyer
Religion Roman Catholic

Michael Francis "Mike" Easley (born March 23, 1950) is an American politician who served as the 72nd governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from 2001 to 2009. He is member of the North Carolina Democratic Party and became the first North Carolina governor to admit to a felony by entering an Alford plea to a single state campaign finance violation in a deal that halted a lengthy state and federal investigation.[2] On January 4, 2013, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Wake County granted Easley a full and unconditional Certificate of Relief.[3] Easley was North Carolina's second Catholic governor. Thomas Burke was the first,[4][5] though Easley is the first elected by popular vote.

Early life and education[edit]

Easley was raised a Roman Catholic in otherwise overwhelmingly Protestant Nash County, North Carolina. His father, Alexander Easley,[6] owned one of the two big tobacco warehouses in the area. Easley earned a degree with honors in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972. While at UNC he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. He then attended the North Carolina Central University School of Law, earning his J.D. degree, with honors, in 1976.

Family[edit]

Easley is married to Mary Easley (née Pipines), who worked in the Provost's Office at North Carolina State University until June 8, 2009, when her contract was terminated by the North Carolina State Board of Trustees. She is a former law professor at North Carolina Central University and also worked for ten years as a prosecutor. The two have one son, Michael Easley, Jr.

Career[edit]

Easley was elected Attorney General in 1992

Easley was elected District Attorney, one of the youngest ever in the state, in 1982.[7]

A Democrat, Easley ran unsuccessfully in that party's 1990 primary for the U.S. Senate; he lost to former Charlotte mayor Harvey Gantt, who himself lost to incumbent Jesse Helms. Easley was elected North Carolina Attorney General in 1992. He won reelection in 1996. In the 1996 election for Attorney General, Easley garnered 59.07% of the vote, compared with opponent Robert H. Edmonds, Jr.'s 40.93% of votes. This represented a margin of victory of 446,169 votes.[8] In the 1996 election,

In 2000, Easley ran to succeed the term-limited Hunt as Governor of North Carolina. He defeated incumbent Lieutenant Governor Dennis A. Wicker in the Democratic primary, and then successfully challenged Republican Richard Vinroot, former mayor of Charlotte, in the general election. Easley was reelected in 2004, running against New Hanover County state senator Patrick J. Ballantine.

Governorship[edit]

In the closing weeks of the 2000 gubernatorial race, actor Andy Griffith filmed an ad endorsing Easley, which some observers believe led to Easley's victory, called the "Mayberry Miracle".[9]

Education reform was a centerpiece of Easley's tenure as Governor, to such an extent that in 2008, Easley received the inaugural "America's Greatest Education Governor" award from the National Education Association. The award was created to showcase "public officials who have demonstrated exemplary achievements and accomplishments in advancing public education".[10] Easley was commended by the NEA for his focus on improving teacher working conditions[11] and for affording teachers a "seat at the table" in discussions surrounding the implementation of education reforms in the state.[10] One of Easley's major programs was More at Four, an innovative academic pre-kindergarten for at-risk children. More at Four has received extensive praise from groups such as the National Education Association.[10] Another signature program of Easley's was the award-winning "Learn and Earn" initiative, which enabled North Carolina high school students to earn college credit by taking online courses at no cost to them or to their families.[10] The "Learn and Earn" program received the Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Presenting the award, Harvard noted that in "2006-2007, rates of grade promotion and graduation for Learn and Earn participants were higher than the statewide average, with nearly half the Learn and Earn high schools seeing 100 percent promotion rates". Harvard also observed that these numbers have not "been skewed by "creaming". The program purposely targets kids at risk, those for whom English is a second language[,] and those who would be first-generation college students."[12] Easley also initiated a program to enable North Carolina students to attain a debt-free undergraduate education by receiving EARN Grants of up to $8,000 over two years.[13] In 2007 Easley wrote and published a children's book, Look Out, College, Here I Come! the proceeds of which fund a North Carolina education charity.[14]

His tenure faced budget shortfalls, tough economic times, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Easley received mixed reviews on his handling of fiscal problems in the state. His supporters claimed many of the budget shortfall situations were created before he even took office, during the Hunt administration, while his detractors criticized his support of raising sales taxes multiple times to cover the cost of new state programs.

During his administration, Easley confronted the state legislature on numerous occasions. Easley is the first North Carolina governor to use the power of veto, which voters gave the governor's office in 1996. First, in November 2002, Easley vetoed legislation related to unqualified appointments to various boards and commissions. In June 2003, he vetoed a bill that stripped the State Board of Education of its authority to set teacher standards. In August 2003, he vetoed HB 917 which raised fees charged by finance companies. In July 2004, he vetoed HB 429 which would have required local governments to make cash payments to billboard owners of up to five times the annual revenue generated by the billboard upon its removal. In March 2005, he vetoed SB 130 which would have conveyed state property. In September 2005, he vetoed HB 706 which would have affected teacher standards. In August 2007 he vetoed HB 1761, a controversial financial incentives bill which would have awarded up to 40 million dollars to companies within the state. Easley has used his veto power a total of nine times as of 2008.[15] His ninth veto was the first to be overridden by the legislature in North Carolina history.[16]

Easley ran for a second term as governor in 2004. He easily defeated Rickey Kipfer, his only opponent in the Democratic primary, and faced Republican former state senator Patrick Ballantine and Libertarian Barbara Howe in November 2004. Though the state voted for Republicans George W. Bush for president and Richard Burr as United States Senator, Easley won his second term as governor and Democrats reestablished control over both chambers of the state legislature (the House had been split equally between the two major parties since 2003).

Easley supported a controversial statewide lottery, which was ultimately approved on August 31, 2005, after Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue cast a tie-breaking vote in the Senate.[17] He has stated that proceeds from the lottery will be used for much-needed educational programs.

Easley presided over 27 executions, including the 1,000th after the death penalty was reintroduced in the United States in 1976. He, however, granted commutation to two death row inmates.[18] The North Carolina governor has the sole right to commute death sentences imposed by a state court.

Easley declined to run against Elizabeth Dole for her Senate seat in 2008.[19] He was considered to be a possible candidate for U.S. Senate to run against Senator Richard Burr in 2010, but he had strongly denied interest in the race. The Raleigh News & Observer speculated in October 2006 that Easley was going to act like a presidential contender in order to position himself for the vice presidential nomination or a cabinet post.[20]

In 2008 in a case that drew international attention, a North Carolina state trooper was filmed hanging and kicking a police dog he was training. After the trooper's superiors recommended minor punishment, Easley's office recommended that the trooper be fired.[21] The case is ongoing, with the state's canine units currently suspended.[21]

As Governor, Easley was a member of the National Governors Association, the Southern Governors' Association, and the Democratic Governors Association. However, he was known for being "reclusive" while in office.[22]

He was succeeded as governor by his Lieutenant Governor, Beverly Perdue, who defeated Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory in a close race. After leaving office, Easley went to work part-time promoting early college high schools and similar programs for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.[23]

Political positions[edit]

Easley is somewhat more conservative than the Democratic leadership on some issues.[citation needed] For example, he supports some restrictions on abortions, advocates welfare reform, is against gun control, and is receptive to free trade issues. However, he is closer to the Democratic base on other issues. He supports the enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment, upholding Social Security,[clarification needed] increasing public healthcare funding for the poor and children, and providing services to illegal immigrants.[citation needed]

During the 2004 Democratic primaries, he supported North Carolina Senator John Edwards.

In the 2008 campaigns, Easley initially endorsed the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on April 28, 2008. After Senator Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, Easley endorsed him against Republican nominee John McCain.[24]

Controversies and investigations[edit]

Easley has been beset by controversies since 2006, which led to a decline in his popularity and public outrage.[19][25] Easley has defended the use of taxpayer dollars for his and his wife Mary's trips overseas.[26] Mary Easley took two trips out of the country, one to France and one to Russia and Estonia, for cultural exchanges at a cost of $109,000 for nine people, including $27,000 for rental of a Mercedes-Benz and almost $9,000 in hotel and Monet tour costs, months after the North Carolina Museum of Art's Monet exhibit had ended.[26] A separate trip to Italy in April 2008 taken jointly by the Easleys resulted in more than $100,000 in charges to taxpayers, including $51,640 for a Mercedes-Benz and a chauffeur.[26] Easley noted that the taxis in Rome were Mercedes vehicles, not Ford Crown Victorias, as in America.[26] Republican critics called the trips overly lavish in a time of economic downturn for the state.[26]

Although the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art defended Mary Easley's trips as having helped the museum receive loaned art items from The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, the Raleigh News and Observer noted that no results of the trips were yet evident as of July 2008.[27] State auditor Les Merritt released a report on October 31, 2008, that found that 40% of the overseas charges were "unreasonable or unallowable".[25] Mary Easley hired state Senator Tony Rand as her lawyer in dealing with the state auditor.[25] Mrs. Easley's efforts also resulted in the North Carolina Museum of Art's obtaining a collection of Auguste Rodin's work valued at $35 million,[28] and in the construction of a new Greek Art wing for the museum.[29]

Merritt found that the $27,000, on-call chauffeured SUV often followed Mary Easley's tour bus through the countryside rather than serving as her transportation.[25] In Russia, hundreds of dollars were charged to the state for both caviar and alcohol purchases.[25] Approximately $45,000 in private funds from the North Carolina Art Museum's foundation were used to reimburse the state following the auditor's finding.[25]

News reports of Mary Easley receiving an 88% annual pay raise for her job as executive-in-residence at North Carolina State University in the University of North Carolina system also did not help Easley's popularity with voters.[19][30] Merritt's audit, however, has been criticized as being "partisan and lack[ing in] credibility".

The pay increase violated a university system policy in which large pay increases must have prior approval, and North Carolina State University ruled that one-third of Mary Easley's salary must be paid with private funds.[25]

Easley also garnered controversy during the 2006 Duke lacrosse case. He appointed Mike Nifong on the condition that he not run for election for District Attorney. Nifong was later elected before being disgraced and disbarred. Easley, however, did not make any effort to remove Nifong until openly criticizing him, and only well after ethics complaints had been launched.[31]

More controversy surfaced months after Easley left office in January 2009. According to Raleigh's News & Observer, the Federal Bureau of Investigation ordered the North Carolina Highway Patrol to produce all records involving private air travel for Easley and his family. The newspaper reported that Easley may have violated federal campaign laws when he "turned a small group of influential North Carolina businessmen into his own private air service, an arrangement Easley kept secret".[32] The FBI issued a subpoena to the patrol on May 15, 2009, as part of a grand jury investigation. The subpoena said the grand jury would meet May 20 and 21 in Raleigh. The subpoena seeks information about the private travels of Easley, his wife Mary Easley, and their son Michael Easley, Jr., on privately owned, non-commercial aircraft. It also requests documents involving payments made for such travel. The subpoena also seeks information on communications with the Easleys about those private flights, public inquiries of the flights, and the patrol's policies on the retention of records related to the Easleys' flights.

The News & Observer reported that Easley later appointed many of his flight benefactors to influential boards and positions;[32] North Carolina State University board chairman McQueen Campbell often flew Easley in his planes and bragged of his influence. The governor appointed Campbell twice to the N.C. State board.

In June 2009, the office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper confirmed that Easley was under investigation by both the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Some urged Cooper to appoint a special prosecutor to the case.[33]

The North Carolina State Board of Elections opened hearings into Easley's conduct on October 26, 2009.[34]

Following a two-year federal and state investigation into campaign finance irregularities, Easley entered an Alford plea to a single violation of state campaign finance law, accepting responsibility for his campaign's failure to report that he took a $1,600 helicopter ride with a supporter in October 2006. While Easley did not admit guilt, the News & Observer reported, he "acknowledged there was sufficient evidence to convict him of a crime."[35] While he neither served prison time nor probation, he paid a $1,000 "community penalty". Federal officials ended their investigation because of the plea.[35] Following the conviction, Easley's law license was suspended but formally restored on appeal in January 2013.[36]

Personal life[edit]

Easley is a fan of NASCAR. He was involved in a crash at Lowe's Motor Speedway near Concord, North Carolina, in 2003. He was behind the wheel of Jimmie Johnson's #48 Lowe's Chevrolet Monte Carlo, when it hit a retaining wall going 120 mph. He was not seriously hurt, since he was wearing a head-and-neck restraint at the time.[37][38]

Easley is also an avid amateur woodworker, and appeared on an episode of The Woodwright's Shop where he made a walnut table.[39]

Electoral history[edit]

North Carolina Attorney General Election 1992
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Mike Easley 1,530,858 62.96
Republican Joe Dean 900,573 37.04
North Carolina Attorney General Election 1996
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Mike Easley 1,453,196 59.07
Republican Robert Edmunds, Jr. 1,007,027 40.93
North Carolina Gubernatorial Election 2000
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Mike Easley 1,492,170 52.4
Republican Richard Vinroot 1,335,862 44.2
North Carolina Gubernatorial Election 2004
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Democratic Mike Easley (Incumbent) 1,939,154 56.4 +4.0
Republican Patrick Ballantine 1,495,021 43.2

References[edit]

  1. ^ News & Observer: Rocking chairs, part two
  2. ^ Easley convicted of felony; state, federal probes end
  3. ^ http://web.co.wake.nc.us/courts/index.html
  4. ^ Weeks, Church and State in North Carolina. Ch. V
  5. ^ CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: North Carolina
  6. ^ Ancestry of Michael Easley
  7. ^ National Governors Association
  8. ^ http://www.app.sboe.state.nc.us/NCSBE/Elec/Results/PastElect/results9/attygen.htm
  9. ^ "Perdue tries to whistle up a Mayberry miracle". Raleigh News and Observer. 2008-10-28. Retrieved 2008-10-28. [dead link]
  10. ^ a b c d http://www.nea.org/home/11048.htm
  11. ^ http://www.newteachercenter.org/tlcsurvey/index.php
  12. ^ http://www.hks.harvard.edu/news-events/news/press-releases/ash-awards
  13. ^ http://www.learnandearn.nc.gov/earnGrants.aspx
  14. ^ http://store.nea.org/NEABookstore/control/productdetails?item_id=2037700
  15. ^ News & Observer: Easley's Nine Vetoes
  16. ^ News & Observer: House overrides boat veto
  17. ^ "Looking for real reform in the governor's race". Independent Weekly. 2008-10-15. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  18. ^ Clemency
  19. ^ a b c "Is the Southern Strategy Dead?". American Prospect. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  20. ^ Newsobserver.com
  21. ^ a b "Kicked Dog Turns Up in Trooper's Yard". Raleigh News and Observer. 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2008-11-01. [dead link]
  22. ^ "Easley's Portrait Out of Sight, as He Is". Raleigh News & Observer. 2009-06-27. Retrieved 2009-06-27. [dead link]
  23. ^ News & Observer: Easley has a new job
  24. ^ News & Observer: Easley endorses Obama
  25. ^ a b c d e f g "Audit Tears into Trips to Europe". Raleigh News and Observer. 31 October 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-31. [dead link]
  26. ^ a b c d e "Easley defends cost of overseas travel". WRAL-TV. 2008-06-30. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  27. ^ "Mary Easley trips cost state $109,000". News and Observer. 2008-07-01. Archived from the original on 2008-08-02. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  28. ^ Reynolds, Christopher. "Rodin Sculptures Highlight Reopening of North Carolina Museum of Art". Los Angeles Times. 
  29. ^ Iovine, Julie V. (2010-06-30). "Easily Accessible Pleasures". The Wall Street Journal. 
  30. ^ "Mary Easley Defends 88 Percent Pay Increase". WRAL-TV. 2 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  31. ^ http://www.newsobserver.com/1185/story/539319.html
  32. ^ a b "Easley's secret flights skirted the law". Raleigh News & Observer. 2009-05-09. Retrieved 2009-05-22. [dead link]
  33. ^ "N. Carolina SBI iInvestigating ex-Gov. Easley". Miami Herald. 2009-06-24. Retrieved 2009-06-24. [dead link]
  34. ^ News & Observer: Easley hearing to bare politics
  35. ^ a b Curliss, J. Andrew (2010-11-23). "Easley enters plea to felony campaign finance charge". News & Observer. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  36. ^ "North Carolina Bar reinstates Mike Easley's law license". Charlotte Observer. 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2014-02-01. 
  37. ^ "N.C. governor not hurt in crash at Lowe's Motor Speedway". USA Today. 2003-05-09. Retrieved 2010-11-23. 
  38. ^ [1][dead link]
  39. ^ Beckwith, Ryan Teague (March 24, 2009). "Easley's Handmade Table Goes for $3,400". Under the Dome. The News & Observer. "The two-term Democrat, who left office earlier this year, had made the simple walnut table on a special episode of “The Woodwright’s Shop” in 2007." 

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lacy Thornburg
North Carolina Attorney General
1993–2001
Succeeded by
Roy A. Cooper
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Hunt
Governor of North Carolina
2001-2009
Succeeded by
Beverly Perdue