Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Essential qualities for a strong and effective governor

Hunt again explains the qualities of an effective governor. He describes how he develops his core political circle. Hunt's vision is top-down, with the governor as the chief leader. This concept demonstrates his firm oversight of political issues, which recurs in throughout the interview.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, August 15, 2001. Interview C-0331. 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

Well, first of all I looked for people who cared and had an interest in the issues and what I was about—my campaign and administration was about. Second, I looked for people that I thought had integrity and ability in performing their functions. Third, I looked for people who would work hard and go the extra mile and be team players. Then obviously when you're talking about say a chief of staff or deputies, you're going to be talking about people who are real good at overseeing and helping you manage the entire government and who can themselves engage your team and give them the attention they need to have and have them effectively involved. When it's cabinet, then you need people who have the ability to, have executive ability, team who can—. I always look for people who were imbued with my ideas and deeply committed to my policies. But also you want people who can manage a department, who can—. Sometimes you have to put good managers in to help them with, if they haven't had a lot of experience and who can see that day to day functions continue effectively and legally so forth who can also help you carry the message out. I would recall that David Bruton really proved himself when we had a special session on child health insurance. The federal government was making some money available for this but unlike Texas, which didn't act on it for a year and a half. The minute it became available, we had a plan developed for North Carolina, which we led. I called on the lieutenant governor to come in and help us with that. We developed a plan, and then I started making visits around the state to personally learn with David Bruton what the situation was with our children, what we might do to change that. Then I called a special session of the legislature. I didn't just wait for the legislature to come to town. I again went out and laid the groundwork, the building blocks leading up to that legislature so that those people would come having seen the governor in their town visiting children in the hospital in Winston-Salem which I specifically remember going to. Children whose parents were not going to be able to pay their bills, they weren't going to get medical care. Possibly in some cases they weren't going to be able to treat them. So I use that example to indicate that you've got to have good managers. You've also got to have idea leaders. You've got to have issue leaders. I picked the first real environmentalist to head the environmental department in the history of state government. Some people thought it wasn't a good idea. I thought it was. He had to be fair. He had to see the big picture and carry out the law. But I always looked, I didn't look for generalists. Sometimes you get a generalist. I had several of those. I would say that Katie Dorsett was a generalist. But generally I looked for the advocate. Betty McCain, how do you get a better advocate for cultural resources and the arts and the history and all of those things. How do you get a better advocate than Bill Holman? How did you get somebody with a stronger background in economic development than Rick Carlisle or for a different kind, Norris Tolson? I could go on through there. So I'm taking too much time answering this question. But I looked for people by and large who had a background, cared deeply, thought a lot and had good ideas themselves to lead these departments, to make things happen. In my first, my third term, I brought in Robin Britt. Robin Britt at the very time I brought him in was involved fulltime in a program for early childhood development. So I wanted to find people who were doing the kinds of things that I wanted to do on a larger scale. Then I tried to help them be good managers, but if that wasn't their forte, I'd bring in a deputy and help them who did have that kind of strength.
Obviously we're talking about a fairly large number of people. Is it difficult to find the people that you wanted to have in the administration? If so, how do you deal with that difficulty?
Well, let's say you're first coming in, again you would invite people to apply and to suggest others. You would discuss with people that you respected and whose ideas you thought well of for people who they would suggest. You would typically have a lot of folks recommended to you. You would also, there would be some logical people, like this person was obviously fit for this. Then you always would wind up with some positions that you didn't have say a perfect candidate, and you'd go out and search some more. You'd ask some more people. I was always looking for some diversity in my cabinet and my staff. I would ask friends, women's organizations, African American organizations, and Hispanics as we began to include them in the circle for suggestions. I, perhaps unlike some administrations years ago, I was determined that I was going to have that diversity. I was going to find it. You can find it if you look hard enough. Sometimes you may need to stretch a little too far in trying to find it, and you'd bring somebody that maybe hadn't had all the training that you'd like for them to have. But I don't I know, I didn't take out ads asking people to apply, but we got the word out pretty broadly that we were looking for people. Then folks would send in ideas, and you'd have files made up for secretary this or that or the other. Then I would interview top candidates personally maybe with somebody sitting in. Sometimes you'd have people kind of do a little preliminary review to help you winnow down the candidates. Then the final analysis they had to believe in what I wanted to do. They had to, and I always looked for personal loyalty. You'd have to have loyalty because there are times when you can't do what your cabinet officer wants you to do. You can't make that a top priority. They have to be a part of the team. We had what we called the Hunt agenda. That was the agenda for everybody. If your own personal stuff in your department wasn't up there on that list, then hopefully you could get some of it done, but it was not the top thing. You just had to understand that. You had to support the top stuff. If you went out and made speeches, you had to speak about my agenda. You could work in your stuff, but my agenda had to come first, our agenda, the people's agenda.