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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 >>

Frustration with lawmaking process as a motivator

Holshouser explains how his indignation with how the law was made—"sloppily and crazily"—kept him involved in the process even as Republicans struggled to be noticed. His law degree gave him a degree of expertise, and his work ethic helped as well. He remembers the hard work he put in on the restructuring of the University of North Carolina, a project he remembers as one of his most significant accomplishments as a legislator.

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

Some of your experiences, you are suggesting that Republicans had difficulty getting legislation passed. There wasn't much of a critical mass to get much done. You didn't get much notice. Could have turned you off about participation in the legislature?
Some of the things that I had said earlier sort of kept me coming back just out of sense of not quite moral outrage, but just sense of indignation. At the same time I found that both in committee and on the floor there were times when amendments got accepted simply because what I was saying made some sense and you knew how to write it down in such a way that it fits as opposed to having an idea but not being able to quite get it into focus. Just the advantage of being a lawyer as much as anything. I think being a lawyer in the legislature gives you a clear advantage in that you are dealing with general statures that are the nature of your business. And when I think about it in those terms I have to say, I have to agree at times with those that say watching how the general statutes are created is sort of like watching hot dogs. It is not so pretty sometimes and you lose a certain amount of respect for the general statutes that you had when you came out of law school that this is the law because you see how sloppily and crazily sometimes these things get done. But it is not for lack of effort. Most of the times it is just because things get overlooked sometimes in the speed of things. But I did find that there were things that I could get done. I always went home with the sense of accomplishment even though I was frustrated with things that I didn't get done. And in the 1971 session by that time I had gotten to know all of the senior people real well. Even if I was Republican and even though they disagreed with me on things in the past, I think I reached a certain level of respect. And at least recognition that I knew what I was doing sometimes. I think I probably drew the 1971 redistricting plan for Congress. Simply because I had played around with all the numbers and drawn the lines on 100 maps and came up with one that was going to protect the key Democrats in such a way that you could get all their house people supporting that. And I showed it to one of the Democrat legislators on our house committee. We were both on it. He took it and introduced it as his own the next morning. It passed out of the committee that day over the objection of the chairman who was trying to help Nick Galiafinakis keep his seat. It went to the floor and passed the next day. And I think overall that probably in terms of personal accomplishment that I knew was my product, that was probably one of the key things. But the thing that I remember most about all four experiences in the legislature was the higher education restructuring in 1971. I had had people encourage me since the 1969 session when we fought back and forth on the Scott tobacco tax. I had gone on statewide television and around the state and all who had been encouraging me to think about running statewide. In 1971 when the higher education restructuring came along I got very involved early on. I went down to see Jimmy Carter in Georgia about how they had done theirs. He was governor of Georgia then. Talked to Cotton Robinson who was the operating person for their university system. Actually I talked to Carter more about the restructuring of state government, reorganization of state government, now that I think back about that when I went to see him about higher education. But Cotton Robinson was down there, Jay Robinson's brother, later Chancellor of Western Carolina. I asked him if he would be willing to come up and speak to our legislative committee about how it was done in Georgia. Bill Friday had encouraged me to call him and bring him in as a resource. If you look back at the books that have been written about that session, Bill Friday was using a lot of different people and playing a lot of different cards. I am sure I was just one of them. I think that Cotton's coming started the movement away from the essentials of the Warren Commission plan towards what was eventually adopted which was having a board of governors which is the governing board as oppose to the older higher education type coordinating board. And I think it just made all the difference. You remember we had a special session in the fall to finish dealing with that. And I was over an hour late for the first kickoff campaign for governor up in High Point. Bo Calloway was coming in to speak, but we weren't finished with that Friday night thing in the legislature. The whole thing just ended up in near chaos over at the furniture market in High Point waiting on me to get there. I mean it was in a matter of one day you would have the regional universities mad with you and the next day you had the consolidated university mad with you. Partly because they were changing positions along the way. But if you kept right down the line saying this needs to be a governing board and you started off with some kind of balance of representation on it with the two groups, that is what made sense. I still think personally to the extent that I made a contribution there that may have been the most important contribution that I made to the state.
Keeping that on the road to the Board of Governors?
Yes, as oppose to anything that I did when I was governor.