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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 >>

Gaining loyalty, but not with favors

Holshouser elaborates on his involvement with the legislature, in particular his efforts to recruit and fundraise for candidates. Holshouser stresses the importance of loyalty in gaining support from fellow Republicans, instead of rewarding support with gifts or appointments.

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:
Now there are other ways in which you could try to influence the legislature and maybe I can get to those. Did you spend time recruiting candidates for the legislature?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I did. I did.
JACK FLEER:
Raising money for candidates for the legislature?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Some, although not near as much as today simply because you didn't have, I mean the whole nature of campaign has changed so much. As I think I told you before, about 22 or 23 hundred dollars I think was the most I spent in any single race for the legislature and that was only one time. With that exception I never spent over hundred dollars and that was in a three county district. Now days you have got people in districts that are similar in size and nature and are spending $50,000 and $75,000. We use to think that you had to be out of your mind to think about spending that much money for a job that doesn't pay any more than it does. I think the public still doesn't understand quite how it is. But there is change in the times. There is more money that can be raised. Unfortunately a lot of it through political action committees. The lobbyists and the legislature just get worn out with people coming to them with their hands out both during the session and later. Now the legislature clamped on some rules about during the session which I think has been a healthy beginning. But I think that genie is out of the bottle and it is going to be very hard to get back in. The state has looked at it several times. But given the constitutional limitations on freedom of speech which includes the right to give people money to speak, I think you are going to have to change the constitution probably to do some of the things that probably would be necessary.
JACK FLEER:
Or get a different interpretation of the first amendment of the Supreme Court which is possible? As far as recruiting people, can you talk a little bit about how you went about getting people to run for the legislature as a Republican?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well we talked to them about I needed some help down there and I was pretty analytical. I didn't spend a lot of time trying to talk people into running for places I didn't think they could win. We concentrated primarily on districts where we thought we had a chance. It is not that we didn't make some effort in other districts as well because you never know when lightening is going to strike. Sometimes the incumbent just screws up and is going to get beat by whoever happens to be there so you would like for it to be a pretty decent person. I mean one of the worse things that can happen in politics is electing people unexpectedly where you didn't go out and get the best people you could and then you have got to live with the results and I have seen some of that too, unfortunately. But I thought that was part of my job as "the party leader," so to speak and part of that was left over from being state chairman probably. But if you assume that at least part of running for governor was the belief that the state needed a two-party system. That was sort of a natural corollary to that.
JACK FLEER:
And you had some luck except that in 1974 anyway the party didn't do particularly well because of other circumstances but mainly outside the state I assume.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Just as 1966 and 1972 had been great years to run as Republican, if you put your name on the ballot you were liable to get elected. In 1974 if you are on there as Republican you might be the best thing since sliced bread but there wasn't a prayer for an awful lot of people. We had a lot of people who were incumbents who got beat through no fault of their own at all.
JACK FLEER:
And did that give you any difficulty in recruiting people for the next legislature in 1976-77?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Things had turned around somewhat but not totally. Gerry Ford was still going to face an uphill fight for the presidency and as it turned out we didn't do very well in 1976. We tried hard again on recruitment of candidates to help although they tended to be a little bit more focus in 1975 and early 1976 on the statewide ticket and the presidential thing too.
JACK FLEER:
Did you have other tools that you could use as governor that would improve your position in the legislature?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Those tools in some cases are there and I saw them used when I was in the legislature. I didn't think I could use them very well as a Republican with a Democrat legislature. Democrat legislators who supported the governor's program in the 1960s, a lot of them fairly regularly showed up with judges robes on or with roads through their county or whatever or with some key appointment to something that they wanted, or their wife be appointed to something that they wanted. And I always disapproved of that but was pragmatic enough that I would probably have not flinched too bad at the idea of doing that except that I didn't think I could effectively deal with the Democrat legislature that way. I believed pretty much in, I started to say sanctity, because that is just about how I viewed our highway program. Because I called the chief highway engineer and the secretary of transportation in the office early on into 1973 and 1974 and said we are going to try to do this thing right. Set up a priority program for paving of secondary roads. We are going to talk about what we can do with the primary road system to knit this state together and that is going to be where the priorities are. And at the end of the time I felt pretty good about the fact that some DOT people said that we had done as close to right as you could do it. It meant turning down some friends who wanted their roads paved simply because they didn't have many people living on their road as this fellow over here who had three times the number of people you just had to say deserved it more.
JACK FLEER:
So what you are saying and I am just trying to understand it myself, for members who were Republican and in the legislature you would or wouldn't be reluctant to use those tools.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Didn't need to.
JACK FLEER:
Didn't need to for that.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I could count on their loyalty. It is one of the advantages of not having been in power for decades. That got to be something the Democrat legislators were use to sort of seeing as part of the game and Republican legislators didn't expect that. Well they knew me too because I had served with them and they just wanted me to do a good job.
JACK FLEER:
So that wasn't perceived as part of the spoils. I mean positively perceived as the spoils.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well we never had serious discussions about that. That is just sort of how the time was. I have no doubt that Republican legislators were calling people in higher offices and the people in the various agencies about friends who wanted jobs. That is something that is going to happen forever and it should happen forever, because if they know people and feel like they are good. That is more likely to turn out to be the fact than any other way. But it is awfully hard to measure on paper how well folks (will do). We didn't have a civil service and still don't. The state personnel act is more protective of career employees now than it was. Frankly state government employees take a lot of heat that they really don't deserve for the most part. I found that I didn't have this feeling almost from day one that I had an entrenched Democrat bureaucracy out there that was going to try to thwart everything I tried to do. It just didn't happen. A lot of them were very enthused about the breath of fresh air, sort of change of scenery kind of thing. You had some hacks along the way and you tried to move them out gently. When I was talking about some of our people screwing up, some of our people tried to do it not gently, mainly just didn't know how to do it and just did some dumb things. But it was not malicious, it was just inexperience. It wasn't an effort to free up a job for this partisan as opposed to the partisan who was in there. But back to the point though. With the exception of probably helping out some of their friends who were looking for a job get one, there probably wasn't much that a Republican legislator was looking for. My guess is that there wasn't a whole lot of even that because it was a serious disadvantage and also an advantage in a way that Republicans had been out of office so long that most of them were gainfully employed in things that they liked to do. That was not always true in the mountains in that sometimes the government is the best job there as opposed to a job you take if there is nothing better in the private sector just because of economic circumstances.