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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 >>

First GOP governor in many decades encounters unique challenges

The first Republican to hold the governorship in many years, Holshouser found it uniquely challenging to step into the leadership of the executive branch, he remembers. Some new arrivals in Raleigh, unfamiliar with proper conduct in their new setting, had to be dismissed. Holshouser also describes how he chose political appointees, relying on his sense of their integrity and desire to serve, and some of the considerations playing into that choice, including disclosure statements.

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

How can a governor be an effective head of the executive branch of government?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, it is one of the most challenging things. It was particularly difficult for us. Because we didn't have a single Republican in the whole state that had ever been a part of the executive branch that I knew about anyway, certainly not in a high policy making positions. We went through just reams and reams of paper looking at potential candidates for cabinet positions. And I am not sure that every decision that we made was the perfect choice. You can look back now and see that some cabinet members did better than other cabinet members. Some of them were just superb. But given the fact that it was the first Republican administration, we probably did better than we might have I guess is the best way to say that. I think I probably delegated less than most governors should simply out of wariness and there were times that you had to have heart to heart talks with folks about something that might be happening. Never had public fights with anybody. We did have to let some people go, not cabinet people but sub-cabinet people, who just did some things that weren't right. They weren't necessarily illegal but they just shouldn't have been doing it. And when you have got people who are coming to Raleigh for the first time, personal habits that weren't noticed out in the hinter lands sometimes get magnified by the capital press corp. So you just sort to have to deal with that. But governors end up with the ultimate responsibility for probably, at the time it was about 60,000 state employees and at least a dozen of them is probably going to screw up every day some where or another. I said that wrong. Everyday at least a dozen will screw up. It won't be the same dozen but there will be that many. That is one of the little bit of surprises. It shouldn't have been but it was. The other one was that so many people wanted to see the governor and nobody else.
JACK FLEER:
You are emphasizing the appointments in this initial response. Why is it that appointments are so important?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well you know that you can't run the whole thing yourself. Even if you are just brilliant you have got to have some people that you have got some confidence in. In my case it just took a while to build that confidence. We had some change over during the time. For the most part, we laid out in some cases where we wanted to go. That was particularly true in DOT. The Department of Administration is an administrative agency. It is not nearly as much a policy making agency. Cultural Affairs has its own thing it does and has its own constituency out there. Not many governors are going to be doing a lot of serious oversight on that even though they get involved a lot. They have different things involving the symphony and arts of one kind or another. Different governors pay different attention to them but there are a lot of things that you can do. But too, the department itself is small. Of course you don't have any involvement with the Council of State agencies. Human Resources is just a big can of worms. It has got such a conglomeration of things. That was the name of it at the time. It changes every four to six years. I think it is now Environmental Health and something now I think. And you have had various health agencies move back and forth between the two departments over the years. We were fortunate in having some people in a couple of key agencies that had enough experience in the field and in management that you could have some confidence about that because there wasn't any way that you could have oversight everyday on it.
JACK FLEER:
So what kind of criteria did you use in selecting people? What were you looking for these major appointments that you made in the cabinet appointments for example?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I am not sure that I can tell you right now what the answer to that was. Because if I look back at the people that got appointed particularly the first round, it was looking for people that I had known personally, that I felt like had good native intelligence plus some reason for thinking that they would fit with the agency that you needed. Bill Bondurant for example had headed up a foundation. I had known him in college. When I talked to him about coming to be the Secretary of Administration, I just think it blew his mind probably. Every time I see him he never fails to thank me for that great year he had but he only stayed a year. He took a year of leave from the foundation and came down. Of course he was a registered Democrat. We didn't have many of those but some. I wanted people that I could count on, not just integrity in the sense of being honest but in having good motives. There is a distinction there. Jim Harrington for instance took a serious pay cut to come and be Secretary of Natural and Economic Resources. He had a background from being the President down at Pinehurst and up at Sugar Mountain to know both the development side and the environmental side of that agency. It has been almost twenty years now since we split conservation and development. I still think it is one of those serious mistakes the state has made. Because I believe you are much better having everybody under one boss in that agency instead of having these folks fighting each other across agency lines. It is partly because so much of the things that help the environment can be handled at small cost up front in the development but if you have to do them after the fact, the cost just gets monstrous. It is much better to have industries come in to the state and have some problems that the industry knows about at the same time we are recruiting them. They know that they are going to have to do certain things when they build a plant and that sort of thing. Now I have sort of strayed from the basic question.
JACK FLEER:
We are talking about the criteria that are involved.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
And it was obviously going to require either an interest in that first Republican administration or just generally public spiritedness, if that is a term.
JACK FLEER:
It is?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Or a combination of those two things. And some people just wanted to be part of the excitement of things like that and willing to take off from their business and come and do this. And I think that is going to be the case in almost every administration. Not all the people in every administration can have that motive but a lot of them will.
JACK FLEER:
Did you have any situations where you wanted someone to come in, you made the decision that you wanted to appoint someone, but you ran into either concerns about the pay cut that they would experience or the public scrutiny which is inevitable in a position like that?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well on the first part, we had some people we asked to come in that couldn't or wouldn't. Just said no. And sometimes it was because it came at a particular time when they couldn't afford to leave their business because there wasn't anybody else there to handle it and they were in the crucial state of expansion or whatever, change.
JACK FLEER:
Not financially afford it but just the conduct of the business?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Right. I suspect that almost everyone that came took a pay cut and I think that is probably still true. Although the cabinet secretary's offices have improved. They are getting close to $ 100,000, so that has probably changed. We didn't have anybody that I know about scared of a spotlight. I don't think that spotlight was near as common then as it is now. Jim Martin probably went further than I would have in terms of the executive order he signed on what his people had to disclose. I know Jim Hunt has gone further than I would on this latest thing about voluntary boards and commissions. I think they are going to have a hard time getting people to serve on the boards and commissions because most of them are not going to take that public bath. I say that from the personal experience that when Gene Anderson during the campaign, my campaign manager, suggested that we come out with a proposal that we would disclose all our income, balance sheet and all that and suggested all the other candidates do it only because I was the poorest one around I think, and would do that every year if I got elected. I just thought the whole thing was nuts and didn't want to do it. And he said you have got to do it, you have got to do it. So I finally agreed and felt like I was literally just stepping naked into a bath right out there in front of the spotlights. And we released that tax return every year and of course when 99% of your income is what you are getting from your salary as governor, that is not that bad of a deal. And everybody knew you didn't have time to be out messing around making money on the side when you were in that job anyway or shouldn't. So it didn't turn out to be that bad of an experience for me, but I remember how I felt at first. I think that is how the average person would feel and they are not going to have the chance to serve as governor. All they are doing is serving on some Podunk commission and I don't think they are going to do it.
JACK FLEER:
But in terms of recruiting other people, you didn't make that requirement?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
No and wouldn't now I don't believe. I think this is one of those cases of sort of overreacting to press demands that come about a problem. And I have to tell you I sort of understand how that is. Because when we went through the energy crises, may have told you this before. We finally did a statewide TV message about proposing a half dozen or dozen different things. But I decided even though I thought it was nuts it was going to be terribly hard to enforce; but if you didn't put in there about certain if you had odd number tags being able to go to the service stations on certain days of the week and even number tags on other days of the week and if you didn't do that the press wasn't going to be satisfied. They weren't going to think, because that was being tried in several states. That seemed to be a common thread in all the stuff leading up to the decision making that people talked about. And I finally decided that I don't think this is going to work. I am going to put it in there simply because I don't want to have everybody focusing on that. So I can understand how the press sort of drives you into something occasionally even if you think it is crazy. In this particular case, I think it is crazy. Because what you are doing is you are keeping out whole bunches of good solid honest people from helping in the state government out of worry about the small handful of bad apples. I would rather take my chance on those, on the downside risk and try just in some other way try to minimize the bad apples. And in DOT that is not that hard. I don't think you need financial statements for DOT. I think you look at people and see what they do, see what kind of persons they are. It is a reasonably small board and you ought to be able to find enough to get solid people. When you pick certain kinds of people, I shouldn't say certain kinds of people, when you pick people who have large landholdings, it is extremely likely that what is in the best interest of their highway division very likely is going to benefit them in someway or another but it is going to look like they did it to benefit themselves rather than because it was the right thing to do. And you need a process that screens out that potential somewhere or another.
JACK FLEER:
But disclosure statements wouldn't do that?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
They don't. They don't.