Gov. Michael F. Easley (D)|
Last Updated October 5, 2001
term expires Jan. 2005
Born: Mar. 23, 1950,
Education: U. of N.C. (Chapel Hill), B.A. 1972; N.C. Central U., J.D. 1976
Marital Status: married
- Political: NC Atty. Gen., 1992-2000.
- Professional: Asst. D.A., N.C. 13th Dist., 1976-78, 1979-82; N.C. Dist. Atty., 1982-90; private practice, 1978-79, 1990-92.
Office: State Capitol, Raleigh
919-733-4240; Fax: 919-733-5166; Web: www.state.nc.us.
The election of Mike Easley as governor in 2000 was the first time that a Democrat has won the governorship three times in a row since 1968. He entered office in many ways overshadowed by Jim Hunt, who was elected in 1976 and 1980 and again in 1992 and 1996; Hunt ran against Senator Jesse Helms in 1984 and lost by a narrow margin after a fiercely contested campaign. Hunt's accomplishments were many--huge increases in both education spending and test scores, tough anti-crime policies, welfare reform, a "conceal and carry" weapons law; during his 2000 campaign, George W. Bush pointed to Hunt as a Democratic governor who had achieved great results. In 2000, barred from running again for governor, Hunt discouraged talk of a vice presidential nomination and said he would not run for Helms's Senate seat in 2002.
Easley grew up in Rocky Mount, 50 miles east of Raleigh, and graduated from the University of North Carolina and North Carolina Central University Law School. He has spent his whole adult life in government. He served as an assistant district attorney and in 1982, at 31, became district attorney in three southeast counties. There he attracted attention for programs against rape and sexual abuse, counseling child abuse victims and prosecuting drug traffickers. In 1992 he took a big step upward by winning election statewide as attorney general. In that office he won publicity by fighting a cap on prison populations imposed by a federal court, creating a task force on environmental crimes, working to protect abortion clinics and supporting weapon-free school zones. He took part in the national tobacco settlement and got some compensation for North Carolina tobacco farmers. He appeared in $1 million worth of public service ads, many warning about predatory lending to old people; his constant appearances irritated Republicans, who pushed through a law banning such appearances in election years.
Re-elected in 1996, Easley started running for governor in 1999, obviously a strong candidate but by no means the favorite. His main Democratic primary opponent, Lieutenant Governor Dennis Wicker, was endorsed by teachers' unions, feminist groups and black leaders. But Easley won the May primary by 59%-36%. Meanwhile, the Republican nomination went to former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot--supported by former Governor Jim Martin and former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith--who beat legislator Leo Daughtry, who was supported by the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association, 45%-37% (North Carolina requires a runoff only when no candidate gets 40% of the vote). Easley called for prescription drugs for seniors and a patient's bill of rights, improvements in public schools and for a lottery to fund education. He avoided the national Democratic Party and didn't attend the convention in Los Angeles. Vinroot opposed the lottery but said he would allow a referendum; he pledged not to raise taxes and called for school vouchers for low-income children in failing schools. There was a negative tone to the campaign: the 6'7" Vinroot, a basketball player at UNC, got lots of notice when he referred to the 5'10" Easley as the "little fellow."
For most of the campaign Easley ran about 10% ahead in polls. Then, when the presidential candidates debated at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem on October 11, Vinroot tied Easley to Al Gore. One ad called Easley an "Al Gore liberal"; another said, "Don't be fooled. Mike Easley, like Al Gore, will say anything to get elected." Easley attacked Vinroot for his support of vouchers and opposition to a lottery. Easley had more money, and in the last week ran an ad with an endorsement from North Carolina's Andy Griffith. That helped portray him as a down home, rural Carolinian, running against a city slicker. Even as George W. Bush was carrying North Carolina, Easley won 52%-46%. He carried east Carolina and the rural areas as a whole; he carried the Raleigh-Durham area by nearly 3-2 and ran even in the Greensboro-Winston-Salem area, running behind only in Vinroot's home turf in metro Charlotte.
As Easley took office in January 2001, the state appeared to face a budget shortfall. But he moved ahead to get approval of a lottery to provide funds for education and hoped to pay for a prescription drugs program for seniors with money from the tobacco settlement.
||Michael F. Easley (D)
|Richard Vinroot (R)
||Michael F. Easley (D)
|Dennis A. Wicker (D)
||James B. Hunt Jr. (D)
|Robin Hayes (R)
National Journal Group offers both print and electronic reprint services, as well as permissions for academic use, photocopying and republication. Click here to order, or call us at 877-394-7350.