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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 >>

Competent governance as party-building

Wise governance accomplishes the same ends as effective party-building, Holshouser explains. A politician's accomplishments reflect on his or her party, as do their mistakes, which is why Watergate damaged Holshouser's efforts to build a strong Republican Party in North Carolina. He remembers his frustration with Richard Nixon's dishonesty.

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

During the time that you were governor one of your stated goals was to help develop a two party system, a stronger Republican party in the state and a two party system in North Carolina. What were you able to do as governor to move toward that goal?
Not nearly as much as I would have liked simply because of Watergate. That tainted the Republican party for not a decade but certainly for a couple of elections. The 1974 election, 1976 election, and 1978 election were all tainted. It was only Ronald Reagan's election in '80 that sort of turned that cycle back around. North Carolina's elections are impacted by national elections more than most people realize. If North Carolina doesn't carry the state for president on the Republican ticket, we don't do nearly as well in local and congressional elections. And I came into office with a different background than a lot of governors around the country having been the state chairman for almost six years and sort of seeing the state through those glasses. At the same time I also believe that once the election is over that the best job that you can do for the party is the best job governmentally. So while we went out and did rallies and speeches and different things on the side, from the governmental standpoint, I sort of thought that was over here on one side and politics was over here. While you have got people interested in jobs particularly from lower income areas of the state where government is more an employer of first resort or best resort. That personnel side of government is a function and it is there. But the policy side of government ought to be mostly, can't say non partisan because political philosophy that is involved in a party has to do with how you operate the government. But you don't try to operate the government as the vehicle of the party I guess is the better way to say that. And I know sometimes you can get sounding too high minded with these kind of things. If you have got a political bone in your body which you should if you run for something, you can't help but think about the impact of what you are doing on the political process. There are policy decisions that you make that can definitely effect how the party is perceived not just you as an individual. And I get a little concerned these days that our Republicans are potentially perceived as more libertarian than Republican and more laissez faire than we can afford to be at modern times. But on the other hand I know that, if I look back at the evolution of parties over the last forty or fifty years that I have been an adult, I realize that parties are not mondilitic and nobody in any party marches down the same road to the same beat all of the time. There is always that if the umbrella is big enough to be successful that it is going to have people with different stripes and philosophies in it. I think that when you are in office that what you propose and how you vote as a legislator does make a difference in how people perceive that.
Now you talked about, you said that you didn't make quite the progress that you would have like to have because of Watergate. Were there steps as governor that you could take to offset the effect of Watergate on the Republican party in North Carolina and did you take those steps?
I don't think there was much. You tried to do what you could. [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
I believe it was the Republican governors' conference in Memphis in November of 1973. Nixon had said coming into that particular conference that there were no more surprises. In the next day in the paper was the gap of the tapes of Rosemary Wood's tapes. I just came back and said we are not going to say anything more about this. Because the guy looked us in the eye yesterday and told us something that flat got proved wrong in today's' paper. He was bound to have known it was going to get proved wrong. So we are just going to sit tight. And I didn't try to just never go to Washington and distance ourselves from that administration because there was too many things in Washington that still had to get done. Frankly, Washington was in such a state of disarray in terms of function that you could only get some things done by going to the cabinet secretary as a rule. Only the governor could probably do that most of the time and say we need this done and he would tell somebody to do it and it got done. But you didn't get any more entwined with the president personally than you had to.