He previously served as a county commissioner, state representative and state superintendent of public instruction. He is a member of the Democratic Party and was an unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor of North Carolina in 2012.
Born in Sampson County, North Carolina, Etheridge attended the Cleveland School and was a high school basketball standout. He attended Campbell University on an athletic scholarship and became the first member of his family to earn a diploma when he received a business degree in 1965. He then served in the United States Army from 1965 to 1967. He has also completed graduate work in the field of economics. Etheridge is also a part-time tobacco farmer and hardware store owner.
Etheridge began his political career as a Harnett County commissioner from 1973 through 1976. He was then elected in 1978 to the North Carolina House of Representatives, and served five terms (1979–1988) and rose to chair the House Appropriations Committee. Having gained a reputation for his strong stances on educational issues, he was elected in 1988 and served two terms (1989–1996) as North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction.1996
Ethridge ran for North Carolina's 2nd congressional district and defeated incumbent Republican U.S. Congressman David Funderburk 53%–46%.1998
He won re-election to a second term with 57% of the vote.2000
He won re-election to a third term with 58% of the vote.2002–2008
During this time period, he never won re-election with less than 65% of the vote.2010
Etheridge was challenged by Republican nominee Renee Ellmers and Libertarian nominee Tom Rose. Ellmers defeated Etheridge 49.5%–48.7%. Etheridge contested the result and requested a recount of the vote. On November 19, 2010, the State Board of Elections director Gary Bartlett confirmed Ellmers won by about 1,483 votes (0.8% margin). Later that day, Etheridge conceded the election.
Etheridge previously served on the Agriculture and Homeland Security committees. He has focused on farm issues, educational matters, and providing a balanced budget.Alternative Energy
In 2006, Etheridge joined U.S. Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth in proposing increased research and development of biofuels to reduce the United States' dependence on foreign oil.Health Care Reform
Etheridge voted to pass the Affordable Health Care for America Act in November 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act."Who are you?" incident
In June 2010, Etheridge was approached by two young men on a Washington, D.C., sidewalk. The pair, who identified themselves as students working on a project, asked Etheridge if he "fully supported the Obama agenda" while videorecording his response. In the video, Etheridge first says "Who are you?" repeatedly, then is seen grabbing one of the young men by the wrists, neck, and back of the shirt, while repeatedly asking the young men who they were. The young men responded that they were "students working on a project". One of them is heard asking the congressman three times to let go of him while the Congressman continued to hold on to him. Etheridge later apologized for the incident in a statement saying "I deeply and profoundly regret my reaction, and I apologize to all involved". Etheridge called a press conference where he stated that there was no excuse for his actions. He refused to speculate on the motivation of those involved and said that it had been a "long day". An article in the New York Times subsequently stated that unnamed "Republican political strategists acknowledge they were behind the episode."
Political analysts commented on the potential effect of this confrontation on Etheridge's chances of re-election against Republican candidate Renee Ellmers. Subsequently, on June 18, a 32-year-old man, Brandon Leslie, said he had been a victim of a similar incident occurring in 1996 in which Etheridge grabbed him when he was a high school student. That report was later disputed by the retired principal who stated that "the student was in the wrong"; however, the principal "did not detail the nature of the exchange between Leslie and Etheridge."111th Congress
Committee on the Budget
Committee on Ways and Means
Subcommittee on Trade
Subcommittee on Oversight
New Democrat Coalition, a moderate, pro-growth organization
Democratic At-Large Whip (2008–2011)
On February 1, 2011, Governor Bev Perdue announced her appointment of Etheridge as head of the North Carolina Office of Economic Recovery and Investment, replacing Dempsey Benton, which oversees funds to the state from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
In February 2012, Etheridge announced his candidacy for Governor of North Carolina. He lost the Democratic primary to Lt. Gov. Walter H. Dalton. After Dalton lost to Pat McCrory in the general election, Etheridge came within a few votes of being elected chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party in 2013, even though he did not publicly campaign for the post.
Etheridge and his wife Faye have three children and eight grandchildren. They are active in their church and both teach Sunday School. For his decades-long work for the Boy Scouts of America, Etheridge was awarded the Silver Beaver Award; the highest award a Scout leader can receive. He is a Freemason and has served as Grand Orator.