Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Central power and campaign tactics of the mainstream Democratic Party

Although Sanford's father supported liberal "underdog" Democratic candidates, few politicians could challenge the established party line. Sanford assesses how the legacy of twentieth-century North Carolina governors illuminates the power the Democratic Party had in controlling state politics.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Terry Sanford, May 14, 1976. Interview A-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BRENT GLASS:
Your parents, were they active politically?
TERRY SANFORD:
My father was always very much active politically and always for the more radical or more liberal candidate. He wanted to beat the old sheriff that he insisted was in league with the boot-leggers. He supported the challengers and finally when one of the challengers won, it was a great day. In fact, they were great friends until his death, until the sheriff's death. He supported Ralph McDonald in 1936 against the total establishment of the state—Ralph MacDonald, that is, was against the total establishment. He was a renegade professor from Salem College that was in the legislature one time and then ran against the lieutenant governor and the heir apparent of the machine, Clyde R. Hoey. Most people think that he beat him. In any event, shortly thereafter, they changed the absentee ballot laws because there were so many obvious abuses in the run-off between Hoey and McDonald that a good many people would say that they stole the election with absentee ballots. I doubt it. In any event, Hoey won. McDonald went on to be a college president in Ohio. He ran one more time for governor. But that was the radical, the person saying that we've got to shake things up in North Carolina.
BRENT GLASS:
your father?
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, my father was supporting him.
BRENT GLASS:
When you say supportive, do you mean he didn't actually work for him.
TERRY SANFORD:
Oh well, in those days I suppose there was somebody in Raleigh working for him, but most of the work was done by people stirring around in the counties. It was a much more spirited, person-to-person campaign. Of course you didn't have television, you didn't have much of radio. People really didn't use radio a great deal politically in those days. Some newspaper ads; certainly all the newspaper stories they could generate. But most of the campaigning was done in what we would call "ward heeling" now. In those days, it was all there was. Just a person-to-person campaign, and he was fairly vocal about it. Most of the up-towners, the more staid, established people would have been for first Sandy Graham, who was the popular politician or Clyde R. Hoey, who was the brother-in-law of Governor Max Gardner and was supposed to be governor.
BRENT GLASS:
That's probably the Shelby dynasty.
TERRY SANFORD:
Well, they called it the Shelby dynasty. It amounted to two men. I never did think it was a dynasty. But Clyde Hoey was not much of a governor in terms of what he accomplished. He didn't do any harm, and by and large, he really did some good. But the governors of North Carolina from the turn of the century on were good governors. There's not a single bad governor in the lot, which I think is remarkable. Not many of them were great governors, not many of them were innovators, and not many of them were too bold, but bold enough maybe for the times. Cameron Morrison developed the first state-wide paved highway system in the country in the early 20's, which was a radical move. He was followed by Governor McLean who created I think the first budget control act. At any rate, it became the model of virtually every other state in the union. This is where the fundamental principle is that the governor manages the budget. He cuts the budget, if necessary, to keep it in balance and deficits aren't allowed. Well that, obviously if you look back, has been one of the most substantial contributions to government. If it had been applied in New York City and New York, they wouldn't be in their problems today. But most states followed North Carolina including, most recently when I was governor, the state of Alaska. And you'll find most of the laws modeled after McLean's. law. Then came Max Gardner, who was considered one of the better governors. He didn't have too much of a chance to do too many things because he got caught in the Depression. But he put the educational system in better shape. He consolidated the university. He, in effect, picked Frank Graham to be the president, which has to be, even if it wasn't planned to be, one of the great contributions to North Carolina. He valued more than anything else that he did, he said in his will, the creation of the consolidated university. I think he did more substantial things than that, and certainly he was a broad-based governor. But then he began to dominate politics. He had lost to Cam Morrison in '20. He came back in '28 to win without opposition to support Al Smith when nobody else would, in spite of the fact I say nobody else, but when the so-called political leader of the state, Senator Simmons, was voting for Hoover and was defeated for his efforts two years later, or three to four years later, Max Gardner went to be the undisputed political leader of the state, and that's where the Shelby dynasty business came in. He then picked an unknown man with an awkward name who was a solicitor in northeastern North Carolina, J. C. B. Ehringhaus. and elected him governor over substantial opposition and they were firmly established. But Ehringhaus then became, in my opinion, the most unappreciated governor for his substantial contributions. I would have to consider him the very finest in the history of the state because he caught the Depression head-on, he handled it like a man . . .
BRENT GLASS:
'32 through '36?
TERRY SANFORD:
Yes. Well, he was elected in '32. You see, he took office January of '33 and went through '36 at which time he saved the public schools, he put them on a state-wide basis, he passed the sales tax to support them, to say nothing of drawing tighter consolidation of the highway system, the prison system so that we had a unified, statewide system in those three very expensive public endeavors. Therefore, we got a little financial edge on the rest of the troubled states, the truth of the matter, of all the rest of the states. At that time we saw New York and those states as being great, wealthy places that had no problems. Well, we could go on from there. So my point is that we really haven't had any bad governors, and every now and then a Ralph McDonald would come along to challenge the system and ultimately Kerr Scott challenged it and beat it. But up until that time the dynasty, so it was called, had picked its governor at least four years in advance, from Max Gardner on.