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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 >>

Changes Hunt experienced during his four terms as governor

Hunt discusses the political changes and lessons he gained during his four-term tenure as governor. As North Carolina became increasingly a two-party system, he argues for the importance of the gubernatorial veto and succession as a check on the state's legislative branch. Hunt maintains the bully pulpit of the governor's office still carries force throughout the state.

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:
Gary Pearce says when he summarizes your first two administrations, or first two terms, he says, ‘Political science textbooks will tell you that North Carolina has a weak governor's office. Jim Hunt proved it does not have to be that way.’ What is your assessment of the power of the office of governor in your experience?
JAMES B. HUNT:
You mean now or when I became governor the first time?
JACK FLEER:
I'd be interested in any change if it's occurred.
JAMES B. HUNT:
I think it was an office with a real limitations when I was first elected, but there was plenty of potential to be effective depending on how effectively the governor translated his mandate into legislation. Two examples that jump out in my mind are Kerr Scott who had a clear mandate to pave roads and take electricity to communities and even though he faced a fairly hostile legislature, they recognized the mandate he had and they went along. Terry Sanford had a clear mandate to bring about quality education in this state and who also faced a somewhat what's the term weary legislature, but because of his powerful mandate and his strong personal leadership and effectiveness with the legislature he got his program through. But during those times we did not have the possibility of succession. We did not have veto. We did have that powerful budget, that budget power that governors have had, and we just had a tradition of high respect for the governor. We did not have a two- party system, an effective two-party system. It was, you know you worked with the leadership to get them to go along and get action to take place. The governorship has always had and does now have the bully pulpit and the stature that it carries which means that people in that position can make friends and have influence and get a lot of cooperation, simply by exerting themselves and asking for it as governor. That's the big factor in getting the legislation through. But in a modern world where there's a strong two-party system, some states have three party systems, the possibility of succession and the veto power, I think, are absolutely essential. They weren't essential twenty-five years ago. They are today and increasingly for the future we see.
JACK FLEER:
Could you talk some about why, it sounds like one of the factors, a major factor, that you think might have brought about this change is the two-party competition unless I'm misinterpreting you. Could you elaborate on that some, why that is such a key factor in making veto and succession essential as you say?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I may have misspoken with regard to succession. As I've told, as I've said to you in an earlier session, I think succession is most important because the governor has time to carry through the complex programs. It takes time to carry through. And that means that we could be switching parties every four years. The veto's a different matter. That's what I meant to speak about a minute ago when I talked about the importance of two-parties. I think, while it is not as clearly seen, when we have a governor and both parties, both houses led by the same party, when we get a governor of a different party from the legislative leadership, that veto is going to be essential for the governor to get cooperation. Jim Martin would have had more; he got some. He got his Highway Trust Fund and did some other things. But veto is going to be very important for the governor to govern, getting his budget through and other items through if he might have a house and legislature different. I had it with one house. I broke my back to get my program through, and I had to do it just by the strength of the office. I had to make use of the bully pulpit. I had to do it by crafting agreements on education and by going out into the counties and showing the popularity of Smart Start, getting those few Republicans to grudgingly to support it. Our opponents were very strong. But especially if you get the whole legislature of one party and the governor of a different party. But even without that it is, it has an effect in the legislature knowing that the Governor's got to be on board. In the final analysis he's got to sign the bill. I think it makes some moderately more inclined to follow his leadership since they know he's a part of them of the process. He's got to ultimately sign for it.
JACK FLEER:
And can share any responsibility as well as any credit?
JAMES B. HUNT:
That's right. So I don't agree with people who said we used to have the weakest governorship. We did not. But it needed to be stronger, and in today's world the problems are so complex and things happen so fast and you need to be able to move so quickly to be competitive and to deal with the problems we have, I think these additional tools are essential.