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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 >>

A governor's need for honest advisers

Holshouser shares his belief in the importance of honest staff members who will tell a powerful politician when they think he or she is in the wrong. He sought to cultivate an atmosphere that encouraged honest reflection, he recalls.

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 one of the things that some persons who have served with governors have talked about is something that I alluded to a little bit earlier with your reference to Gene Anderson, that there is a need to have someone in the administration at an important position, level, to be able to tell you either when something is going wrong or maybe even when you are doing something wrong. 1) Do you agree with that and 2) Did you have such a person and 3) How did it work?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I totally agree. I think there is a terrible tendency for folks not to tell people in high elected positions what they honestly think in terms of, not necessarily, misdeeds. I think that is the wrong term probably, an errant performance of somewhere another. If you don't have anybody but yes people around you, then you are going to find out in the newspaper that you have done something wrong when it didn't have to end up in the newspapers. Or you are going to think that the newspaper is just beating on you when they shouldn't. But when your friends are good enough friends to say to you, you need to do something about this. But I watched, I got a good experience on this, from 1969 to 1971 when I was the Republican state chairman. I would go to the state chairmen meetings and particularly the southern Republican chairmen. I would hear all of them gripe about this or that and then they would go in to meet with the President and nobody would open their mouths. I remember thinking to myself this is being sorry friends for Richard Nixon. But people just get a little scared to do it and that is going to tend to be the way with people from outside. Every governor is probably well served by having a kitchen cabinet with a dozen people from around the state to come in and just talk honestly. I am not sure how many of them effectively do that. I don't think I did very well. But I had some good friends, some of whom were in the legislature still to let me know if something was happening. And our staff people were by and large pretty irreverent which I think was a very healthy thing. It was never a lack of respect but a lot of kidding around the office. I never did discourage that and wouldn't yet. Because if you set it, a lot of that comes from the top, if you set an atmosphere where everybody feels scared to tell you anything you have done shot yourself in the foot.
JACK FLEER:
So you had the kitchen cabinet or some form of that.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I say I don't think, when I started off I got some people together during December after the election and once in January but it sort of fizzled out. Mostly my lack of attention on that I think. But the people in the office and the cabinet secretaries and some key legislators that I had known would let me know if they thought there was a problem.