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

Hunt's bipartisanship due to the Republican Council of State

Hunt needed to embrace bipartisanship as governor because the independently elected Council of State, members of the executive cabinet, was composed primarily of Republicans. Consequently, he maintained firm control over policy decisions so that he could accomplish his Democratic agenda.

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

JACK FLEER:
The picture that you draw of your relationship with these offices is different from what some governors have. I'm wondering whether, I've drawn in at least interviews I've had with them, and I wonder whether the issue of partisanship becomes key element here in that I don't believe you ever had a Council of State member who was not a Democrat.
JAMES B. HUNT:
I think that's right. Yeah. Yeah.
JACK FLEER:
And yet many Republican governors had almost all Democrats most of the time. Is that an issue or is that really an issue of the position of governor, that you need to protect his position as chief executive; therefore, you do intervene on budget and you do intervene on legislative proposals and you may even intervene on personnel decisions?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I'm not sure I understand your question.
JACK FLEER:
Well, does it make it easier—you talk about the fact that you were very involved in those departments when you thought that it was inconsistent, any actions they might take were inconsistent with what you were doing, inconsistent with what you believed the people of the state thought—
JAMES B. HUNT:
It doesn't happen very often but on occasions, yes.
JACK FLEER:
Some other governors have said I basically accept what those departments proposed for the budget. They have their separate legislative program, different from my legislative program. Is this an issue of differences in partisanship or is it an issue of differences in perception of the role of the governor as chief executive?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I think it's more of the latter. The real truth is probably ninety percent or ninety-five or ninety-eight percent of what certain cabinet or Council of State departments wanted you, there wasn't any question about. You did not get involved by and large.
JACK FLEER:
You did not get involved.
JAMES B. HUNT:
No, but when it came—let's just take education. The superintendent is elected although the governor appoints the state Board of Education. The budget has got to reflect your priorities. What are your programs? Raise teacher pay to the national average in four years. Yes. That's what mine was for the last term. So that's what I put into the budget. I got the law passed and put into the budget monies that would do that. We went from forty-third to twenty-first in four years. It's amazing. It meant a lot of other things couldn't be done, some other things couldn't be done. Smart Start, that was a big budget item. Some people in human resources would rather have done some other things. Maybe some people in other departments would have preferred we go some other ways.
JACK FLEER:
[Come in.]
JAMES B. HUNT:
I'm not sure I've made this clear, Jack, but it was probably easier for me working with people in my own party to develop a closer relationship. But I think it's more a matter of style and determination, and I would not hesitate to take a different position and pursue it aggressively if I thought it was necessary to carry my agenda through. My guess is Jim Holshouser said the same thing. I don't know what he said to you and I'm not asking, but you know he pushed hard for the Coastal Area Management Act. I'm sure plenty of people in some of these other departments including Agriculture didn't like that idea. He pushed for things at DPI that I expect Craig Phillips liked. Whether they were his absolute top priorities or not, I don't know. In other words, he knew what he wanted to do, he ran on it, he pushed hard and he got it. So again, you've got that kind built in tension. The governor has a program, ran on it. People expect him to carry it out. You want to work cooperatively with other people also elected, but in some cases the clear mandate was in the governor's race rather than the Council of State race.
JACK FLEER:
Does the existence of these many departments independently elected weaken the governorship?
JAMES B. HUNT:
A little bit.
JACK FLEER:
A little bit?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Some. Yeah. Some. You could argue in education it is a fairly significant matter. But it doesn't prevent the governor from being effective, especially if he can work out the relationships as I think I did in education, build a team and work on those personal relationships that you have to do any time you're going to have a good team. But, to be honest with you, I think we elect too many people. I think we ought to have a shorter ballot. I don't think the people know who's running and in most cases they don't know what the issues are. But you have to decide what's important, and you can't do everything. [In] most cases, Council of State members feel very strongly that they ought to be independently elected, and it's just not worth the fight.