Easley was raised a Roman Catholic in the overwhelmingly Protestant community of Nash County, North Carolina. His father, Alexander Easley, owned one of the two big tobacco warehouses in the area. Easley earned a degree in political science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1972. He then attended the North Carolina Central University School of Law, earning his J.D. degree in 1976. His wife, Mary Easley, is a professor of law at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina and worked for ten years as a prosecutor.
Easley was elected District Attorney, one of the youngest ever in the state, in 1982.
Easley ran unsuccessfully in the Democrat 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, serving during the administration of Governor Jim Hunt.
In 2000, Easley ran to succeed the term-limited Hunt as Governor of North Carolina. He defeated incumbent Lt. Governor Dennis A. Wicker in the Democratic party primary, and went on to defeat the Republican nominee, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, in the general election. Easley was re-elected in 2004, running against New Hanover County's state senator, Patrick Ballantine.
In 2010, Easley made a plea agreement with prosecutors related to various investigations into his electoral campaigns and his tenure in office. His 2004 reelection campaign had already received a $100,000 fine from the North Carolina Board of Elections for receiving free flights from private aircraft. In exchange for submitting an Alford Plea (not admitting guilt but admitting that the prosecution has sufficient evidence for a conviction) to receiving an undisclosed helicopter ride from longtime friend McQueen Campbell during the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, Easley received a $1,000 fine without jail time and lost his law license. The federal and state prosecutors dropped all of their numerous other investigations into Easley's actions during his tenure as governor. He became the first North Carolina governor to be convicted of a felony for actions committed while in office. He had been accused of securing a large raise for his wife at North Carolina State University, receiving many free helicopter flights from Campbell, and receiving steeply discounted prices for real estate in exchange for aiding developers. The John Locke Foundation identified his various actions which were previously under investigation as examples of "cronyism."
The early portions of Easley's term as Governor were marked by an emphasis on education reform. One of Easley's major programs was More at Four, a pre-kindergarten for at-risk children.
His tenure faced budget shortfalls, tough economic times, and natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Easley has gotten mixed reviews on his handling of fiscal problems in the state. His supporters claim many of the budget shortfall situations were created before he even took office, during the Hunt administration, while his detractors have criticized his support of raising sales taxes multiple times to cover the cost of new state programs.
During his administration, Easley was not been afraid to confront the state legislature. 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; and in August 2007, he vetoed HB 1761, a controversial financial incentives bill which would have awarded up to forty million dollars to companies within the state. Easley has used his veto power a total of eight times.
Easley supported a controversial state-wide lottery, which was ultimately approved on August 31, 2005. He stated that proceeds from the lottery will be used for much-needed educational programs. The legislative process leading to the lottery's approval involved irregularities in both houses and was identified by the John Locke Foundation as an example of "cronyism."
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 as 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).
Governor Easley presided over 27 executions, including the 1000th after the death penalty was reintroduced in the United States in 1976. He, however, granted commutation to two death row inmates. The North Carolina Governor has the sole right to commute death sentences imposed by a state court.
Easley was considered to be a possible candidate for U.S. Senate to run against Sen. Elizabeth Dole in 2008 or Sen. Richard Burr in 2010, but he has strongly denied interest in those races. 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.
As Governor, Easley was a member of the National Governors Association, the Southern Governors' Association, and the Democratic Governors Association.
During the 2004 Democratic primaries, he supported North Carolina Senator John Edwards.
Easley 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, claiming "I'd rather be a bum on the boxcar of the Obama train than at the front of the bus with John McCain." 
- Mike Easley is North Carolina's second Catholic governor. Thomas Burke was the first, though Easley is the first elected by popular vote.
- He is the first Governor of North Carolina in 28 years to not be named James.
- He is an avid fan of the FOX television series King of the Hill.
- He is also a huge fan of NASCAR, despite personally being 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.
- Ancestry of Michael Easley
- National Governors Association
- Jon Sanders, John Locke Foundation, "Carolina Cronyism: Introduction, Overview, and Reform," July 2012, pp. 10-12
- Jon Sanders, John Locke Foundation, "Carolina Cronyism: Introduction, Overview, and Reform," July 2012, pp. 8-9
- Clemency - deathpenaltyinfo.org
- News & Observer: Easley endorses Obama
- New York Times
- USA Today
- Office of the Governor, State of North Carolina Official state site
- Follow the Money - Mike Easley Campaign contributions for the 2004 North Carolina Governor race
- National Governors Association - North Carolina Governor Michael F. Easley Biography
- On the Issues - Mike Easley Issue positions and quotes
- Project Vote Smart - Governor Mike F. Easley (NC) Profile
- Mike Easley, Governor Official campaign site
- North Carolina Democratic Party
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