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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., June 4, 1998. Interview C-0328-4. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Ethics in the governor's mansion

Holshouser recalls that he brought his personal ethical standards to the governor's mansion, but also that he did things that later many people would have considered inappropriate, such as his use of the state plane. Holshouser points out a number of different factors that come into play when weighing ethics in politics, including the inevitability that someone in a large administration will likely do something fishy; that publicity seems to determine the severity of the offense; and that it is important to retain a staff member who keeps track of potential misdoings.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., June 4, 1998. Interview C-0328-4. 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

Can you talk a little bit about what kind of ethical code you brought to the office of governor?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Well I think you start off with your own personal standard. It is sort of interesting because looking back I suspect even that changes with people from time to time over the passage of time. Maybe there is a better way to say that. That also gets affected by things that were out of your control. If you have a major scandal in another state or in Washington about a specific thing that makes everybody in every state more likely to set up and pay attention. We did things that everybody accepted as fairly standard at the time that today probably wouldn't be. (I) used the state plane a lot for things that people don't, I shouldn't say people don't let you do, but its become politically unwise to do any more. Never had the sense that we were taking public money to put in our own pocket because I made the determination early on in politics that if you are honest you couldn't get rich in politics, you probably lost money. And you shouldn't ever let that get to be a factor. I think you also had to figure that as the first Republican in administration, I thought it was especially important that we not get a black eye. The jury is still out at this point on whether that may happen with our legislative folks or not. And if it turns out that they do get a black eye, and to a certain extent they have got a black eye already just in fact that there has been as much publicity as there has about it. And I think they let the party down in this strictly partisan sense. In the broader political sense, they have let the governmental process down by having it appear that there is too much wheeling and dealing.
JACK FLEER:
And you are referring to the fact that the Republicans are in majority in the house and some action that has been in relation to the decisions there?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
Right. Some of the accusations that have been made, if they are proven true and so far they haven't been it appears. And I generally told people they shouldn't do anything they wouldn't want on the front page of the newspaper.
JACK FLEER:
Did you feel the standard was higher for the first Republican administration?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I did.
JACK FLEER:
Yes.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I would hope that if I had been the fifth Republican I would still have thought the standard ought to be the same and keep it high. But I can't measure that.
JACK FLEER:
Right.
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
And I had always felt that the public in general had a feeling that there was something a little unsavory about politics. I remember talking to some of my mentors in the mountains about that, about whether you could actually get into it with both feet up to your ears so to speak without getting tangled yourself. That is harder today than it was when I was around I think because of the attack mode of the campaigns. When we talked before one of the things that I didn't mentioned that I probably should have is that despite the fact that Gene Anderson got some bad publicity during our administration, I think Gene felt one of his jobs was to keep his antenna out there, and his ears and eyes open, and have people talk to him about whether something was happening in one of the agencies that it was going to be an embarrassment. Somebody doing something wrong. And just periodically he would come in and say I think you need to take a look about this, something is happening. And I think he never did get any credit for that. It wasn't a public thing but it was very important in terms of keeping the administration's record clean.
JACK FLEER:
Is it?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
What I did find is this though. When you have got 60,000 people out there working for the state a few of them are going to screw up every day and the guy at the top eventually answers for all of that. It just depends on the degree the press gets interested as to how much publicity that gets.
JACK FLEER:
You mentioned Gene Anderson's role. It is necessary do you think and is it generally the case that an administration will have someone or should have someone who will sort of blow the whistle whenever that kind of potential difficulty occurs?
JAMES E. HOLSHOUSER, JR.:
I think it is. I think somebody can. Sometimes it just happens because of the personalities and Phil Kirk shared that sense of responsibility but just in a slightly different way. It is sort of hard to explain and I am not sure that I can. Both of them felt an obligation to sort of keep their eyes and ears open. If you don't have something like that, then if the governor is doing his job he is out there being the spokesman for the state and looking at policy and this sort of thing. Something will just reach up and just bite you from behind in case you don't have time to personally oversee all of this stuff. So part of your own protection of yourself is to have somebody who is doing these things that you don't have time to do.