Mike Easley

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Mike Easley
Mike Easley.jpg
72nd Governor of North Carolina
In office
January 6, 2001 – January 10, 2009
LieutenantBev Perdue
Preceded byJim Hunt
Succeeded byBev Perdue
48th Attorney General of North Carolina
In office
January 9, 1993 – January 6, 2001
GovernorJim Hunt
Preceded byLacy Thornburg
Succeeded byRoy Cooper
Personal details
Michael Francis Easley

(1950-03-23) March 23, 1950 (age 70)
Rocky Mount, North Carolina, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Mary Easley (1980–present)
ResidenceCharlotte, North Carolina
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
North Carolina Central University

Michael Francis Easley (born March 23, 1950) is an American lawyer and politician who served as the 72nd governor of the U.S. state of North Carolina from January 2001 to January 2009. He is the first [1] [2] governor of North Carolina to have been convicted of a felony.[3] A member of the Democratic Party, Easley was North Carolina's second Catholic governor.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Easley was raised a Roman Catholic in otherwise overwhelmingly Protestant Nash County, North Carolina. His father, Alexander Easley,[5] 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.


Easley is married to Mary Easley (née Pipines), who worked in the Provost's Office at North Carolina State University until June 8, 2009. 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.


Easley was elected Attorney General in 1992.

Easley was elected District Attorney, one of the youngest ever in the state, in 1982.[6]

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.[7]

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.


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".[8]

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".[9] Easley was commended by the NEA for his focus on improving teacher working conditions[10] and for affording teachers a "seat at the table" in discussions surrounding the implementation of education reforms in the state.[9]

One of Easley's major programs was More at Four, an academic pre-kindergarten for at-risk children. More at Four has received praise from groups such as the National Education Association.[9]

Another signature program[citation needed] of Easley's was the "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.[9] 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" that is counting of only high scoring children. The program purposely targets kids at risk, those for whom English is a second language[,] and those who would be first-generation college students."[11] 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.[12] 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.[13]

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.[citation needed] 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.[14] His ninth veto was the first to be overridden by the legislature in North Carolina history.[15]

Easley speaking at his second inauguration, 2005

Easley ran for a second term as governor in 2004. He 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).

He also 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.[16] He has stated that proceeds from the lottery will be used for much-needed educational programs.[citation needed] 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.[17] The North Carolina governor has the sole right to commute death sentences imposed by a state court.

Governor Easley declined to run against Elizabeth Dole for her Senate seat in 2008.[18] 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.[19]

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.[20] The case is ongoing, with the state's canine units currently suspended.[20]

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.[21]

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.[22]

Political positions[edit]

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 Clinton on April 28, 2008. After Senator Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination, Easley endorsed him against Republican nominee John McCain.[23]

Controversies and campaign finance lawsuit[edit]

Easley was faced with controversies in 2006 stemming from campaign and overseas travel.[18][24][25] Easley's wife, Mary Easley took two trips out of the country, one to France and one to Russia and Estonia, for cultural exchanges. Republican critics called the trips overly lavish in a time of economic downturn for the state.[25] However, 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. 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,[26] and in the construction of a new Greek Art wing for the museum.[27]

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 campaign laws.[28]

The North Carolina State Board of Elections opened hearings into Easley's conduct on October 26, 2009.[29]

Following a two-year federal and state investigation into campaign finance irregularities, Easley entered an Alford plea to a single felony 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, he "acknowledged there was sufficient evidence to convict him of a crime."[30] He pled guilty by entering an Alford plea to a single state campaign finance violation. He paid a $1,000 "community penalty." [31] On January 4, 2013, the Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Wake County granted Easley a Certificate of relief from disabilities.[32] Federal officials ended their investigation because of the plea.[30] Following the conviction, Easley's law license was suspended but formally restored on appeal in January 2013.[1] He is the first [1] [33] governor of North Carolina to have been convicted of a felony.[34]

Current activities[edit]

Easley is a practicing attorney in North Carolina. He represents businesses and corporations and has been involved in several significant civil trials. Politically, in 2018, he joined former North Carolina Governors in successfully opposing state constitutional amendments that would have weakened the powers of the governor. [35] He also joined in the filing of amicus briefs to oppose gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts in North Carolina. [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 injured, 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


  1. ^ a b c Blythe, Anne (February 4, 2013). "North Carolina Bar reinstates Mike Easley's law license". Charlotte Observer. Archived from the original on February 3, 2014. Retrieved February 1, 2014.
  2. ^ Halloran, Liz (January 22, 2014). "Governors Gone Wild: A Recent History". NPR.org. Archived from the original on July 22, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  3. ^ "State of North Carolina v. Michael F. Easley" (PDF). ABC11.com. November 23, 2010. pp. 1–4, 6, . Archived (PDF) from the original on October 29, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  4. ^ Thomas Burke was the first Catholic governor of North Carolina; see Weeks, Church and State in North Carolina, Ch. V; CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: North Carolina. Easley was the first elected by popular vote.
  5. ^ Ancestry of Michael Easley
  6. ^ National Governors Association Archived 2011-06-28 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 26, 2008. Retrieved January 7, 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Perdue tries to whistle up a Mayberry miracle". Raleigh News and Observer. October 28, 2008. Retrieved October 28, 2008.[dead link]
  9. ^ a b c d http://www.nea.org/home/11048.htm
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved January 1, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 27, 2010. Retrieved January 1, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on February 28, 2011. Retrieved January 1, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on October 9, 2007. Retrieved January 2, 2011.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ News & Observer: Easley's Nine Vetoes Archived 2014-03-27 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ News & Observer: House overrides boat veto Archived 2009-07-22 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ "Looking for real reform in the governor's race". Independent Weekly. October 15, 2008. Archived from the original on November 23, 2008. Retrieved November 25, 2008.
  17. ^ Clemency[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ a b "Is the Southern Strategy Dead?". American Prospect. October 24, 2008. Archived from the original on August 10, 2011. Retrieved October 26, 2008.
  19. ^ Newsobserver.com[permanent dead link]
  20. ^ a b "Kicked Dog Turns Up in Trooper's Yard". Raleigh News and Observer. October 31, 2008. Archived from the original on November 3, 2008. Retrieved November 1, 2008.
  21. ^ "Easley's Portrait Out of Sight, as He Is". Raleigh News & Observer. June 27, 2009. Archived from the original on October 2, 2012. Retrieved June 27, 2009.
  22. ^ News & Observer: Easley has a new job Archived 2011-07-14 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ News & Observer: Easley endorses Obama Archived 2012-04-01 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "Audit Tears into Trips to Europe". Raleigh News and Observer. October 31, 2008. Archived from the original on November 3, 2008. Retrieved October 31, 2008.
  25. ^ a b "Easley defends cost of overseas travel". WRAL-TV. June 30, 2008. Retrieved October 27, 2008.
  26. ^ Reynolds, Christopher. "Rodin Sculptures Highlight Reopening of North Carolina Museum of Art". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on April 27, 2010.
  27. ^ Iovine, Julie V. (June 30, 2010). "Easily Accessible Pleasures". The Wall Street Journal.
  28. ^ "Easley's secret flights skirted the law". Raleigh News & Observer. May 9, 2009. Archived from the original on August 31, 2009. Retrieved May 22, 2009.
  29. ^ News & Observer: Easley hearing to bare politics Archived 2009-10-27 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ a b Curliss, J. Andrew (November 23, 2010). "Easley enters plea to felony campaign finance charge". News & Observer. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved November 23, 2010.
  31. ^ Curliss, J Andrew; Blythe, Anne (November 24, 2010). "Easley enters plea to felony campaign finance charge". newsobserver.com. Archived from the original on November 24, 2010. Retrieved March 27, 2020.
  32. ^ http://web.co.wake.nc.us/courts/index.html
  33. ^ Halloran, Liz (January 22, 2014). "Governors Gone Wild: A Recent History". NPR.org. Archived from the original on July 22, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.
  34. ^ "State of North Carolina v. Michael F. Easley" (PDF). ABC11.com. November 23, 2010. pp. 1–4, 6, . Archived (PDF) from the original on October 29, 2019. Retrieved October 29, 2019.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  35. ^ "NC governors campaign against constitutional amendments". News & Observer.
  36. ^ "Bipartisan group of former governors calls on court to 'root out' partisan gerrymandering". The Progressive Pulse. August 7, 2019.
  37. ^ "N.C. governor not hurt in crash at Lowe's Motor Speedway". USA Today. May 9, 2003. Retrieved November 23, 2010.
  38. ^ [1] Archived September 5, 2008, at Archive.today
  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.[permanent dead link]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Lacy Thornburg
North Carolina Attorney General
Succeeded by
Roy Cooper
Political offices
Preceded by
Jim Hunt
Governor of North Carolina
Succeeded by
Beverly Perdue
Party political offices
Preceded by
Jim Hunt
Democratic nominee for Governor of North Carolina
2000, 2004
Succeeded by
Bev Perdue