Mike Espy

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Mike Espy
Mike Espy 20120223-OCE-RBN-1281.jpg
25th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 22, 1993 – December 31, 1994
PresidentBill Clinton
Preceded byEdward Madigan
Succeeded byDan Glickman
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 2nd district
In office
January 3, 1987 – January 22, 1993
Preceded byWebb Franklin
Succeeded byBennie Thompson
Personal details
BornAlphonso Michael Espy
(1953-11-30) November 30, 1953 (age 64)
Yazoo City, Mississippi, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Portia Ballard
EducationHoward University (BA)
Santa Clara University (JD)
WebsiteCampaign website

Alphonso Michael Espy (born November 30, 1953) is an American politician who served as the 25th United States Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994. He was both the first African American and first person from the Deep South to hold the position. A member of the Democratic Party, Espy was the U.S. Representative for Mississippi's 2nd congressional district from 1987 to 1993.[1]

On March 5, 2018, Espy announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat being vacated by Thad Cochran.[2] Espy finished second in the election on November 6, 2018, and will face Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith in the runoff election on November 27, 2018.

Early life and education[edit]

Espy was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. He is the grandson of Thomas J. Huddleston Sr., founder of the Afro-American Sons and Daughters, a fraternal society that operated the Afro-American Hospital, a leading provider of health care for blacks in the state from the 1920s to the 1970s. Espy attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was active in student politics, holding several elective positions. He earned his Juris Doctor from Santa Clara University School of Law in California in 1978.


Espy with President Bill Clinton in 1993
Espy as Secretary of Agriculture

Early years[edit]

Espy was an attorney with Central Mississippi Legal Services between 1978 and 1980 and was later the Assistant Secretary of State to Mississippi Legal Services. From 1980 to 1984, Espy was the Assistant Secretary of the State to the Public Lands Division.

Espy was an Assistant State Attorney General from 1984 to 1985.

Congress and Secretary of Agriculture[edit]

In November 1986, Espy was elected as a Democrat to the 100th Congress from Mississippi's 2nd congressional district. He defeated two-term Republican Webb Franklin to become the first African-American to represent Mississippi at the federal level since Reconstruction.[3] He was reelected three times.

In December 1992, Espy was chosen by President-elect Bill Clinton to be the Secretary of Agriculture in the new administration.[4] Following his confirmation by the Senate in late January 1993, Espy resigned from his seat in the House of Representatives.

Espy served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1993 to 1994. He announced his resignation in October 1994, following questions over his use of government perks and acceptance of gifts.[5] He was indicted in 1997 for receiving improper gifts, but acquitted of all 30 charges in 1998.

In October 2007, Espy crossed party lines to endorse Republican Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's reelection campaign.[6]

Private law career[edit]

In 2008, Espy became an attorney at Morgan & Morgan, a nationwide law firm, where he handles general plaintiff's law, mass tort, bond and governmental finance, and international relations cases. One of his notable cases was the Pigford lawsuit, where Espy worked in conjunction with a black farmers advocacy group, the National Black Farmers Association, to represent those farmers.[citation needed]

2018 Senate campaign[edit]

On March 5, 2018, Republican Senator Thad Cochran announced he would resign as of April 1 for health reasons, triggering a special election. Espy announced his intention to run for the seat that same day, becoming the first declared candidate in the race.[7][8] He called Cochran "a person I admire and respect, and who has done so much for Mississippi over his tenure."[9]

On November 6, per Mississippi law, a nonpartisan, or "jungle primary" took place, the same day as the regularly scheduled U.S. Senate election for the seat held by Roger Wicker, who was running for reelection. Party affiliations were not printed on the ballot.[10] No candidate gained a simple majority of the vote in the special election, so a runoff election between the top two candidates, Espy and Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith,[11] will be held three weeks later, on November 27.[12]

Political positions[edit]

CBS, reporting on the 2018 US Senate election in Mississippi, described Espy as a conservative Democrat.[13] Espy identified his own political positions as moderate.[14] He made a centrist pitch for his campaign for Senate.[15]


The nonpartisan National Journal noted that his liberal social views are mixed with his support for cutting the federal budget and protecting Mississippi's defense and agricultural industries.[16] On fiscal issues, he has worked across the aisle, helping expand in 1990 "the Earned Income Tax Credit, an important benefit to low- and moderate-income families, black and white, in his district."[17] In 2018, Espy said that he wants to cut the government's budget and that he supports free trade, a policy position traditionally shared with Republicans.[18][19]

Health care[edit]

Espy has said he would like to ensure all Mississippi citizens have access to quality health care.[20] He believes that the decision by Republicans to deny an expansion of Medicaid is why so many rural hospitals in Mississippi have closed.[21]

Social issues[edit]

In 1986, running for Congress, Espy was considered pro-choice on abortion.[22] In 2018, he said he was moderate on abortion; he supports Roe v. Wade but opposes abortion personally.[23] Espy said during his Senate campaign that he will work with anyone regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.[24] He supports gun ownership and received the National Rifle Association (NRA)'s Silver Rifle award in 1988 for supporting its positions on gun laws.[25] In 2018, the NRA gave Espy a 0% rating.[26]

Corruption trial and acquittal[edit]

Espy trial[edit]

On August 27, 1997, Espy was indicted on charges of receiving improper gifts, including sports tickets, lodging, and airfare. Espy refused to plea bargain and on December 2, 1998, he was acquitted of all 30 criminal charges in the trial. Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz presented more than 70 witnesses during the trial and spent more than $20 million preparing and trying the case.[27]

During testimony before the jury, the prosecution's star witness told Smaltz: "God knows, if I had $30 million, I could find dirt on you, sir."[28] During the trial, Smaltz protested that the defense was injecting race into the trial in what he saw as an appeal to a mostly black jury.

The defense rested without calling any witnesses, arguing simply that the prosecution had not proved its case. The jury deliberated less than 10 hours before finding Espy not guilty on all charges. One of the jurors said, "This was the weakest, most bogus thing I ever saw. I can't believe Mr. Smaltz ever brought this to trial." At least four other jurors echoed this view, though less pointedly.[29] Barbara Bisoni, the only white juror, said Smaltz's case "had holes" and that race never entered into the deliberations.[29]

Related cases[edit]

In 1996, Sun-Diamond Growers was fined $1.5 million for giving Espy $6,000 in gifts; in March 1998 it won a reversal at the Court of Appeals level.[30] Independent Counsel Smaltz appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Court of Appeals, finding that the gratuities statute requires a link between a gift and an official act. Unable to make such a link, Smaltz dismissed the gratuities charge against Sun-Diamond. The court's unanimous April 1999 opinion, by Justice Antonin Scalia, stated that the prosecutor's interpretation of the law was so broad that even a high school principal could be in legal trouble for giving a souvenir baseball cap to a visiting Secretary of Education.[31] The Sun-Diamond decision played a pivotal role in Espy's later acquittal because Smaltz was unable to link gifts he received to any official act.

In a separate case during the same investigation, Espy's Chief of Staff, Ronald Blackley, was convicted in late 1997 on three counts of making false statements[32] and sentenced to 27 months in prison.[33]

In December 1997, Tyson Foods Inc., the nation's largest poultry processor, pleaded guilty to felony charges of giving Espy gifts.[34]

Electoral history[edit]

Mississippi's 2nd congressional district: results 1986–1992
Election results
Year Democrat Votes % Republican Votes % Other Party Votes %
1986[35] Mike Espy 73,119 51.71% Webb Franklin 68,292 48.29%
1988[36] Mike Espy 112,401 64.74% Jack Coleman 59,827 34.46% Dorothy Benford Independent 1,403 0.81%
1990[37] Mike Espy 59,393 84.11% Dorothy Benford 11,224 11.89%
1992[38] Mike Espy 135,162 77.97% Dorothy Benford 38,191 22.03%

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mike Espy". www.nndb.com.
  2. ^ "Espy announces run for Cochran Senate seat". Clarion Ledger. Retrieved March 6, 2018.
  3. ^ Hall, Carla (December 19, 1986). "Espy's Mississippi Milestone". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  4. ^ Locin, Mitchell (December 25, 1992). "Clinton Finishes Cabinet Of Diversity". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  5. ^ Devroy, Ann; Schmidt, Susan (October 4, 1994). "Agriculture Secretary Espy Resigns". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  6. ^ Kittredge, Brett (October 10, 2007). "Text of Mike Espy's Endorsement of Haley Barbour". Majority in Mississippi. Archived from the original on January 8, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  7. ^ McCarthy, Waverly (March 5, 2018). "Mike Espy to run for Thad Cochran's Senate seat". Mississippi News Now. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  8. ^ "The Latest: Former ag secretary Espy running for Senate". The Sacramento Bee. March 5, 2018. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  9. ^ L, Megha (March 6, 2018). "Who Is Mike Espy? Thad Cochran's Senate Seat Bid By Clinton-Era Official". International Business Times. Retrieved March 5, 2018.
  10. ^ Rakich, Nathaniel (2018-03-06). "How Things Could Go Wrong For Republicans In Mississippi's New Senate Race". FiveThirtyEight. Retrieved 2018-04-28.
  11. ^ "The Latest: Mississippi has 3 more weeks of US Senate race". AP NEWS. 2018-11-07. Retrieved 2018-11-08.
  12. ^ "2018 Elections Calendar - Mississippi Secretary of State" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  13. ^ "The big seven races that will (probably) decide who controls the Senate". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  14. ^ Elliott, David. "Senatorial candidate Mike Espy says he'll 'Put Mississippi First'". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  15. ^ Sullivan, Sean (April 6, 2018). "Democrat Mike Espy announces bid for Senate seat in Mississippi". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  16. ^ "Can Mike Espy Win in Mississippi? | Tribune Content Agency (April 13, 2018)". Tribune Content Agency. Retrieved July 1, 2018.
  17. ^ Hinton, Karen. "A black Democratic senator in Ole Miss? Meet Mike Espy - NY Daily News". nydailynews.com. Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  18. ^ "Senator candidate Mike Espy aims for Mississippi's African-American base". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  19. ^ "Trump's Trade Approach Diverges Sharply from Free Trade Republicans". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  20. ^ "POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Healthcare at center of Congressional elections". Daily Journal. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  21. ^ "Aiming for Alabama-like Victory, Espy Opens 'Modern' Campaign Headquarters | JFP Mobile | Jackson, Mississippi". m.jacksonfreepress.com. Retrieved 2018-10-26.
  22. ^ Greenhouse, Linda. "WASHINGTON TALK; A Turning Point On the Abortion Issue?". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  23. ^ "What you need to know about Mississippi's special Senate race, candidates". The Clarion Ledger. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  24. ^ Elliott, David. "Senatorial candidate Mike Espy says he'll 'Put Mississippi First'". Retrieved June 26, 2018.
  25. ^ Willis, Jay (2018-11-13). "How a Democrat Could Swipe a Senate Seat in Deep-Red Mississippi". GQ. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  26. ^ "The Voter's Self Defense System". Vote Smart. Retrieved 2018-11-14.
  27. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on June 2, 2003. Retrieved May 3, 2003.
  28. ^ "Was this a bad idea? - December 14, 1998". www.cnn.com.
  29. ^ a b Espy Acquitted in Gifts Case. Washingtonpost.com (December 5, 1998). Retrieved on September 14, 2011.
  30. ^ Court Sets Aside Fine Against Sun-Diamond , Los Angeles Times, March 21, 1998
  31. ^ Supreme Court rules Sun Diamond Growers did not violate federal law in Espy case - April 27, 1999. Cnn.com (April 27, 1999). Retrieved on September 14, 2011.
  32. ^ Stout, David (June 6, 1999). "Prosecution That Spared Espy Leaves a Top Aide in Ruins". Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  33. ^ "Donald Smaltz - Ron Blackley - Secrets Of An Independent Counsel - FRONTLINE - PBS". www.pbs.org.
  34. ^ M. Alex Johnson, Walking the walk, on the assembly line , NBC News, March 24, 2005
  35. ^ "Federal Elections 86: Election Results for U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. May 1987. p. 57. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  36. ^ "Federal Elections 88: Election Results for U.S. President, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. June 1988. p. 51. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  37. ^ "Federal Elections 90: Election Results for U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. April 1991. p. 31. Retrieved March 18, 2018.
  38. ^ "Federal Elections 92: Election Results for U.S. President, U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives" (PDF). Federal Election Commission. June 1993. p. 72. Retrieved March 18, 2018.

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Webb Franklin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Bennie Thompson
Political offices
Preceded by
Edward Madigan
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Dan Glickman