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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., May 9, 1998. Interview C-0328-3. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The negative impact of political action committees

Political action committees (PACs) have exploded the number of competing interests in Congress, Holshouser believes. He worries that they have hurt politicians' ability to create coalitions as well as giving money a more important role in the political process, exluding citizen legislators and hurting the legislative process.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., May 9, 1998. Interview C-0328-3. 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:
Was that your experience with Senator Helms?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Yes. Some of his supporters in-state were involved and interested, and have been since that time. At the same time, the role of the party has been diluted so badly by the formation of PACs—and when I say PACs I mean political PACs, not R. J. Reynolds PACs. David Broder has written column after column on how the important parties are not being treated right, and that the system is being hurt by that. I think he's right, and that has carried over into the Congress with the change of the seniority system. The party as a vehicle in Congress quit being nearly as effective, because now you've got umpteen zillion caucuses up there and they've all got different agendas. So trying to build a consensus is just a lot harder than when Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson were running things.
JACK FLEER:
You mentioned PACs, and you were talking primarily about what you referred to as political PACs. I guess this means PACs of political leaders rather than PACs of industrial groups or labor unions, or whatever they might be. Do you think that's become an important factor in North Carolina politics. Was it whenever you were governor?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It was nonexistent when I was governor; it's very important today. I mean, you see the president pro tempore of the senate, you see the speaker of the house, you see several members of the house and senate having separate PACs. They get people to give money to that, which they can either use in their own campaigns or in somebody else's campaign. It definitely allows money to become the vehicle through which individuals gain political power within the spectrum through which they are working at the moment. I suspect it's much easier now for a political leader in the legislature to stay in that position of leadership than it ever has been in years past. Of course, we had traditions for a long time—you weren't speaker but one term, for example. That changed during Mr. Ramsey's time, and I think it's changed for the worse, probably.
JACK FLEER:
Many people say it's changed at least in part—maybe a major part—because the governor can now serve a longer term.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That's when it happened. When gubernatorial succession came in the legislature decided if they're going to do it on the executive side we ought to do it on the legislative side, or we'll be at a disadvantage.
JACK FLEER:
But you said it may well have been for the worse. Could you talk about that a little bit?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well, I believe that to the extent we've moved away from a true citizen legislature, it's removing the possibility for a great many people who would be good legislators to be able to run and serve. It's not just what we've been talking about. It's also the length of terms and the amount of service between them. I was talking to a legislator this past week, and I think she said she was on thirteen interim committees and commissions. She was spending about half of every week in Raleigh.
JACK FLEER:
When the legislature is not in session, you mean.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That's right, when the legislature's not in session. I mean, you can't hold a regular job back in your home county and be in the legislature anymore. Most lawyers can't do that. When I was in the legislature, I went to Raleigh five months and then was home the rest of the two years, with rare exceptions. We had probably twenty-five percent of the legislature who were lawyers. Right now we don't have enough lawyers to staff a judiciary committee, even though you've got bill drafting going on and even though you've got draftsmen to help individual legislators who want to write amendments. When you've got someone sitting down, scribbling one out and sending it up on the floor on the spur of the moment or in committee, the absence of lawyers who have an understanding about the law and the general statutes causes the legislative process to suffer. That's my own particular perspective on it. But it's keeping out not just lawyers, but a lot of people who would be good senators. I doubt, for instance, that Archie Davis would have felt like he could have afforded the time to be in the senate as he did when he ran back in the 1960s. And so you end up having legislators who have to fit a certain sort of generic situation career-wise before they can run for the legislature.
JACK FLEER:
Have that dispensable time that they otherwise would not have?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
That's right. It doesn't mean that there aren't some good people there, and there are certain companies that encourage employees to run if they want to. In fact, that's part of not only their need to be publicly involved but it also means that their approach to things gets heard. You have teachers who run and take leaves of absence; you have university employees who run and take leaves of absence, and some of them are very articulate. Like Paul Luebke from Durham, who teaches over at UNC-G. His philosophy and mine are not the same at all, but to the extent that the legislature needs good minds, that's an example of a good mind.
JACK FLEER:
In terms of the legislature's relationship with the governor, many would argue that this makes the legislature a more effective partner with the governor. In that sense, it provides a kind of restraint on excessive executive power. Is that a fair statement?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
It could be. It's a little. It may be that my whole thinking about this is simply an intellectual effort to hold back the wave of the future. Modern society has gotten much more complex. It may be that volunteers can't deal with those problems anymore; that there's not enough time to stay up to snuff. Some of them—you take Betsy Cochran. She doesn't have a job she has to go to everyday, but she works almost full time on issues and keeping up. That's the kind of legislator who's just invaluable. But then you only have so many of those. The legislature has not changed in one regard; about ten percent do most of the work. That's the way it is in most organizations. That probably isn't going to change, regardless.