Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, May 18, 2001. Interview C-0329. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Taking an active role as lieutenant governor

After the Democratic candidate, Skipper Bowles, lost the race for governor in 1972, Hunt had to carry the banner for the Democratic Party as the lieutenant governor. However, Hunt insists he focused on issues instead of partisanship. Consequently, he faced an angry Democratic Senate. Nonetheless, Hunt argues that he expanded the role of the lieutenant governor to a more active position, due in part to his willingness to cooperate with the Republican governor, James Holshouser. Hunt also credits his canvassing of the state with the office.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, May 18, 2001. Interview C-0329. 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:
Let me get to the larger question about using or occupying that particular office because while Bob Scott had occupied that office and did become the governor in 1968. You had to go all the way back to (O. Max) Gardner to any previous lieutenant governor in modern times who had used that office. Maybe Mr. Philpott might have been able to use it if he had lived. We don't know. I know that Terry Sanford thought that was a possibility for him. But a lot of people didn't see either the potential in that office or thought the possibility of realizing that potential by being in that office. If you were interested in changing the state and you probably knew you weren't going to be able to do that simply in the lieutenant governorship, you could get started there but that—
JAMES B. HUNT:
It's logical to say, ‘Well, you were just getting ready to run for governor.’ But I wasn't. I thought Skipper Bowles would be elected although we did have a one-term limit in those days. I wanted to be a part of a progressive team to move North Carolina forward. Of course when I won, especially when Skipper lost, then I had a whole lot more responsibility as the party leader. I worked very hard at it, and it was very hard to do. I worked actively for getting the Coastal Area Management Act through. Holshouser supported it and proposed it. But I got it through the senate, and Julian Allsbrook would've killed it. I supported, actively supported education appropriations. [Phone ringing] [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
JACK FLEER:
Governor, we were talking about the idea of using the lieutenant governor's position to be a factor in the state in terms of moving the state forward. Can you talk about how you saw that happening in that position?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, first let me say to you that I was a very active lieutenant governor. I might have been the first one ever with a quote program, not necessarily with a program that I sponsored and got initiated but taking a position on virtually every issue and pushing hard and working actively to get them through. That was the case on education issues especially appropriations, passing public school kindergarten, phasing that in, later phased in Smart Start in a similar kind of way, working for conservation and environmental issues like the Coastal Area Management Act, supporting what I thought was good whether it was Governor Holshouser's program or not. A lot of Democrats didn't like that. They thought I ought to fight the Republican governor. I was issue oriented. I was in it for, I agreed with Governor Holshouser on many things. I still do and have a great, great admiration for him.
JACK FLEER:
Now a number of people at that time might have felt, a number of people let's say in the North Carolina Senate, might have felt that you were not a part of the North Carolina Senate. You were an executive official. You had not been in state government—
JAMES B. HUNT:
Prior to that I hadn't been in the senate.
JACK FLEER:
Had not been in the senate.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Can I get you anything to drink here?
JACK FLEER:
If you have something, sure that would be fine. Turn this—
JAMES B. HUNT:
The senate. Listen, I was young. I had never been in the legislature. I might have been viewed as an upstart. I had all these ideas about issues. There were several things that made it tough to work effectively.
JACK FLEER:
If you were sympathetic to Holshouser on issues, even on issues, that was also a problem wasn't it.
JAMES B. HUNT:
That was not a plus in the eyes of some of them. That wasn't clear early on. He'd won, and these were Democratic kinds of issues. Good gosh. But I really had my hands full leading that senate.
JACK FLEER:
How could you do it because I've talked with Governor Scott for example who had also been lieutenant governor with Governor Moore? You get the impression from not only him but other reading that I've done that the lieutenant governor is not supposed to be an active leader. He's supposed to be just a figurehead.
JAMES B. HUNT:
That's not what I ran for. That wasn't what my life was about. Mine was about being active and being a leader and getting things done. That's the I think the theme you'll see running through my life getting things done, change things, make improved opportunities for people especially for people who haven't had much of a chance. I just worked at it, Jack. I remember after being elected lieutenant governor being up here when we had a big snowstorm and I couldn't get home because I was living in Rock Ridge. My wife was building a house the year I was running. I stayed up here days on end trying to figure out how to appoint the committees. I asked, I got some input from the senators. But also was figuring out who would get something done for me now or for North Carolina but be willing to respond to my leadership. I wasn't going to try to dictate to them, but I didn't want to put people in who were opposed to what I believed in, what the Democratic Party stood for and what I'd run on.
JACK FLEER:
[Thank you so much.]
JAMES B. HUNT:
[Thank you Sheila. Sheila I'll be leaving at five. So if y'all can just have my stuff ready for me, hear.] I remember asking Kenneth Royal if he'd be willing to be on the education committee. I found out he had been on the school board in Durham County years before. He hadn't been on the education committee in years. He was about the boss of the legislature. I don't think he wanted to be on the education committee. But I wasn't, I don't think I asked him to be the chairman. I just wanted him to be on it because I thought he had a good background, and he was a strong man. He was willing to do it. I tried to be fair to the members of the senate. But I was picking committees not just to put them somewhere or to give everybody one of their first choices. I was picking committees to try to get action on issues that I thought were important actions that were important for North Carolina.
JACK FLEER:
Did you face resistance doing that?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah. Some of them didn't like what I appointed them to, but not overwhelming. We developed a good relationship. I worked well with them, and I won't say I won them over, but we developed a good I think working relationship. I think they thought I was a fair presiding officer. But again I was the president of the senate. In the debate on the Coastal Area Management Act, Senator Julian Allsbrook was determined it was not going to pass. He was a powerful man, had the longest seniority in the senate, sat on the front row right to the right of the, when you looked down, there he was in the front. Longest serving man in the senate. Very articulate in those days. When the Coastal Area Management Act came to the floor, I think it had already passed the house with Bill Wichard's help and others. Holshouser's bill rather. When it came to the senate floor, Julian Allsbrook I bet he had three dozen amendments all catfish amendments to weaken the bill or kill it. I did him the courtesy of recognizing him for the first six motions to amend, but he still had two handfuls. After the sixth one I recognized other people. He never got recognized again, and he was furious. In fact after the sixth one he stood up for his next amendment. I didn't recognize him, and I think he tried to appeal the decision to the chair, but he didn't win. It takes two-thirds over the chair. See I was determined to get that bill passed, going to do it fairly, but I was going to make sure that the will of the senate prevailed. I was very active in encouraging them to support it.
JACK FLEER:
So you used your power or your ability to preside and to recognize in a way that fostered the particular issues that you were interested in and that did not cause you great difficulty?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Oh yeah. Sure it did. There was a fair amount of resentment among members of the senate, about all Democrats.
JACK FLEER:
Yes.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Although the Republicans got a pretty good group the second I guess 1974, one of those years when you had a big turnover. The house speakers well Carl (Stewart)—Gaston County—Carl, I'll think of it. He and I had were generally on the same wavelength politically in terms of political philosophy, but Jim Ramsey, a pretty moderate guy but didn't have an interest in legislation. I remember trying to sit down and say, ‘Look if you'll help me with this bill, what are you interested in?’ He didn't have anything he was interested in. Nice fellow, fairly moderate in his views. He didn't have a program. He didn't have a program to move the state forward. So it was trying to deal with the senate, then trying to get the house, ‘Let's y'all get stuff through too’ was really, really tough. But nobody ever said it was going to be easy. It was a pretty good preparation.
JACK FLEER:
The other part of your relationship was of course your relationship with the governor. During this time some in the senate were trying to make it difficult for Governor Holshouser to be governor.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Oh yeah. Trying to take his powers away.
JACK FLEER:
Take his powers away, doing a variety of things. How did you handle that?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I opposed taking his power away because I thought it was wrong for the state. The governor had little enough power. He didn't have succession; he didn't have the veto. I didn't do it for Governor Holshouser even though I like and respect him and had a good, I think he'll tell you we had a good relationship.
JACK FLEER:
He has told me that.
JAMES B. HUNT:
But I just thought it was wrong for North Carolina. Why would you come in here and strip his powers? He's the leader of the state. So I opposed those things, and some of the party faithful got upset with me, not out, it wasn't any vote or huge outcry. They couldn't understand why I wasn't helping strip this Republican governor especially after he had had that helicopter fly around and fire all those people.
JACK FLEER:
That didn't endear him to people. Who were the major, what were the major factions in the party that you had to deal in your party, that you had to deal with at this time? There must have been some other people in the senate who were saying this guy using this for—
JAMES B. HUNT:
I guess they were. There was a kind of [a] power vacuum to be honest with you. We didn't know how to deal with losing the governorship. Skipper remained the titular head. He had his people, his party chairs and things like that, state party chairs. But I just worked at doing my job. I literally had not decided early on to run for governor. I knew why I was there, to try to do things, same kind of things that I'd run on. I'd always worked on and for other people's campaigns. So I just worked at it day by day pushing hard, leading on issues, trying to get the senate to come along, dealing with the house as best I could, supporting good things that the governor was proposing. He proposed raising teacher's salaries, very significantly. I told you about kindergarten, and I was a very active supporter. I probably supported his education proposals and Coastal Area Management Act and things like that stronger than any lieutenant governor had ever supported a governor. I think the lieutenant governors by and large had been kind of neutral on issues.
JACK FLEER:
Right, they had been.
JAMES B. HUNT:
I was very active in support of what I thought was good.