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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-0328-1. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Impact of membership in the Republican minority

Holshouser describes how his experience in the legislature prepared him for the governorship because he learned a great deal about the state's budget. His memory of the legislature as a training ground for his term in the governor's mansion underscores the modesty of his goals as a legislator. He found success in the legislature, in part because there were so few Republicans serving that even an inexperienced lawmaker like him could win positions of at least moderate influence.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., January 31, 1998. Interview C-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

JACK FLEER:
Well, were you able to accomplish whatever goals you had in the legislature sufficiently to your satisfaction?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, the goals were modest to start with. But what happened was I got on the appropriations committee and ended up spending four terms on the appropriations committee. So you got to see how the state was spending its money and in what areas and what made sense and what didn't. By the time I was running for governor, I knew a lot about the state budget. I was one of the first Republicans, maybe the first Republican, to have not only been in the legislature but had been in it long enough to understand the issues enough to be able to talk on your own bases your, own knowledge, about the overall state spending. Don't mind you leaving that on but I wouldn't want it to appear in print but Mr. Stansbury was over at the Department of Revenue. He was the one who calculated the state's revenue estimates and everybody sort of looked to him as the last word. And I had a lot of conversations with him off and on during our term. He told me one time what I thought was the highest compliment anybody said; he said, you know more about budgeting that any governor that I have known. He had been there about forty years at the time. I always thought budgeting was the key to the governors being able to succeed. Because almost anything that you wanted to do cost money, not everything but a lot. But at any rate if I look back now I doubt that I had very much impact on that budgeting process or those first couple of years in the legislature. But it got your interest stimulated and challenged you. You started to see some things that you hadn't seen before. I would also find that something, two or three things, would happen each time that would make me so mad that I would say I just can't let them get away with that. I am going to run again kind of thing.
JACK FLEER:
Have a chance to undo it the next time or something? Beyond budgeting and your extensive experience in that, were there other issues when you were in the legislature that you became importantly involved in and made a contribution from your perspective?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well it is always hard to know about your contributions on things. Redistricting became an issue while I was there. I don't remember whether it was 1963 or 1965 when the Renn Drum law suit here changed things for North Carolina for ever at least. Because at that point you know you had one legislator for each county and you had twenty legislators spread among the largest counties and senators districts? And it was obvious that that was going to change the political landscape when that started having to be done. I ended up in four redistricting sessions during the time I was in the legislature just because, of that. You know the first time or two the courts threw out what we did, a little federal plan. By the time you are the minority leader or been the state chairman, that gets to be a matter of major interest.
JACK FLEER:
You became a minority leader in what year?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
In 1965.
JACK FLEER:
And chairman in?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
In 1966.
JACK FLEER:
In 1966 so you had been in the legislature roughly three years.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well you didn't serve in the even numbers.
JACK FLEER:
Right, right.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
You served in the odd number year and that was it at that stage and so I had had one year in the legislature and one term and then became a minority leader.
JACK FLEER:
And then would that be considered a fast rise or just good luck. How did you become a minority leader?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I was elected secretary of the caucus my first time which could have just easily been somebody else and I still don't have any idea why and it didn't mean hill of beans. The secretary didn't do anything; it just made a nice article in the paper back home. And I think I probably wouldn't have been state chairman had I not got elected minority leader in 1965 and I wasn't scheduled to be minority leader at all. And I think that was just, I can't say it was lucky. It was a result of bad luck of the Republicans in the 1964 election.
JACK FLEER:
I see you became one of the more experienced or
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
You can't say more experience because I had only one term.
JACK FLEER:
That is what I was saying.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
The people who had had more experience didn't want to do it.
JACK FLEER:
Well as the minority leader did that put you in circles in the legislature that you would not have had the opportunity to participate in and therefore give you, say a fairly significant, significantly different experience from other Republicans?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well what it probably meant looking back is that the speaker if he were going to do anything even in a minimal way to acknowledge the Republicans would have ended up with me doing it. And I was named vice chairman of a couple of committees. I was put on the special joint appropriations subcommittee that was the predecessor of the "gang of eight" kind of thing, much larger group, probably twenty at that point. And a tradition I am thinking has not been good for the state that we got away from. I think having the house and senate having joint committees and bringing in one budget to the floor of both houses during that process worked very well. I doubt we are going to go back to that. It didn't mean I got involved in any "leadership" conferences because Republicans were just never involved in it.
JACK FLEER:
But did it put you among Republicans in a position of some notice and publicity?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Just barely. I got a little bit more notice that everybody else, but everybody else got noticed so little that that wasn't saying much.