Easley leaves mixed legacy
For eight years, Gov. Mike Easley led the state in good times and bad. As governor, he had his own style – something that often brought him criticism and praise.
When Easley took the reins from former Gov. Jim Hunt in 2001, the state was facing a $1 billion budget shortfall. Within a year, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the loss of thousands of textile and traditional manufacturing jobs made his job even harder.
"Here's what I tried to do and wanted others to do: Stay focused on what you want this state to be 20 to 25 years from now, and do the things you have to do to implement that vision," Easley said.
In his case, implementing his vision meant slashing the budget and raising taxes. He pushed for and finally won a state lottery for education and pushed to create a new work force with laid-off workers.
"(It involved) transitioning the economy into the new and better jobs (and) developing talent and skills. We stayed focused on that," he said.
For all of his successes, critics say Easley's focus was sometimes fuzzy. His administration leaves behind management problems in the departments of Health and Human Services, Correction and Transportation.
He brushes off those who he said were sometimes misinformed.
"My relationship with the media in over 30 years of public service has been good. It's not their job to be my friend," he said.
Still, lingering problems in state agencies weren't the hardest part of being governor, Easley said. Calling family members when a North Carolina National Guardsmen was killed at war was much more difficult.
"(When I was) dialing that last number, there were times I'd hang up and dial it again. It was always very tough to make that call," he said.
Easley said he's proudest of having the chance to serve the state, and he said he plans to continue serving by working with nonprofits that focus on education.
"The overarching part of this eight years (was) always remembering we were here to serve the least of our brethren," he said. "I will forever be grateful for the eight years and the confidence voters gave me to serve this state."
Easley's office also issued a statement praising 54 low-performing high schools that improved on standardized test scores last school year.