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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Executive and legislative branches struggle for power

Holshouser remembers his attempts to defuse some of the tension that had existed between the office of the governor and the General Assembly. He sought to create a space where legislators could feel comfortable with their influence but in which they could not exert undue control. As he recalls his effort to navigate this power struggle, he reflects on another: that which springs from partisanship.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. 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:
Let's turn to discuss your relationship with the General Assembly. You said in a speech in 1973 to the General Assembly, "I have been here and because of that I believe in the General Assembly". What did you have in mind with that statement?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, I had been in the General Assembly enough to know that there was always a kind of tension between the legislature and the executive branch. It didn't have anything to do with political parties. A lot of people felt like the legislature didn't really have the authority that it was suppose to have under the state constitution. That you appropriate money and you left town and you never knew whether the governor really spent it the way you said or not because there was some flexibility in moving money around and still is. And there was always the feeling that the governor was trying to run the show all by himself and that we were just sort of temporary pawns in the game of things. And I guess having coming in the legislature, out the legislature, I thought that probably I could help bridge the gap a little bit. I met the legislature at a preconvening thing they had I think in December. I can't remember exactly where it was except it wasn't in Raleigh. It was in Chapel Hill or Durham some place I believe. I told them then as long as we didn't worry about who got the credit that we would get along just fine. And I found that through out the whole administration, that if I didn't go out promoting everything that Jim Holshouser had done, that that was pretty much true. So we set out a plan because we didn't have near enough Republicans to be in control. As it turns out in the 1974 election, we lost down to next to nothing. But I also knew that I had to be reasonably careful not to have the legislature think that it could run the state government from a distance some how. I had the advantage that I had worked with them and they knew that they could believe me when I told them something. That I wouldn't play games with them. I think that was sort of the rock around which everything else had to be built. They also knew that I had been over there long enough to know enough about the government that I wasn't going to have to be watch dogged all of the time. I was a little bit disappointed but not surprised that some partisan stuff reared its head during that first session. Didn't much after that. There was near to taking away the authority of the governor to appoint the state board of elections and in turn appoint county boards. Somebody, I have never known how, got me a copy of some correspondences between some Democrat politicians and legislators saying how some stuff ought to be done and we aren't going to keep control over the election process. Growing up in the mountains you are already paranoid about because there are just too many stories of elections having been stolen. One of the big, the biggest, applause-getter during the primaries in particular in the spring when I was campaigning particularly west of Charlotte. They would talk about isn't it going to be great to have a Republican governor appointing the Board of Elections' people to make sure the elections are honest. That just drove them wild.
JACK FLEER:
So you had raised people's awareness and desires, so to speak.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, the awareness and desire was there but you let them know you understood. But we were also fortunate that there was some people around who understood that what the proposals were going to be far worse than turning the reins over to the Republican Board of Elections' people. And people like Ed Rankin who had been the Administrative Assistant to Governor Hodges and head of the Citizens Association came down to Raleigh to testify before a committee that it was not a good idea. I went over and testified and told them that I could understand their temptation but that wasn't in the best interest of the state. And we beat that down with a couple of other things on appointments. But that was sort of this little circus that was going on to the side. It was just sort of a potential distraction but the main game was still going on in terms of programmatic activities.
JACK FLEER:
Did you think that circus as you called it was motivated by partisanship or by institutional differences or something else?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Strictly partisanship. That wasn't legislature verses the governor. And during the last two years of the term the hardest fights were protecting the institution, the office of the governor from invasion by the legislature. Jim Hunt as Lt. Governor and members of the Council of the State helped head those off as a group. And not necessarily totally altruistically. Jim Hunt was counting on being the next governor and the Council of the State people didn't want people meddling in their departments too much. So I lucked out again.
JACK FLEER:
Did that occur in discussion with you or did those people act independent of you in trying to put that down?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
We didn't have any smoked filled rooms. I talked with several Council of State people myself and said I am counting on you being interested enough in your department to see that this doesn't happen. Jim Hunt and I talked and said this is just not good for the state, not good for the office of the governor. You may well be the next governor you ought to make sure that this doesn't happen.