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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, October 3, 2001. Interview C-0332. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Hunt's rationale for his numerous public appearances statewide

Hunt describes the utility of making public appearances across the state. He argues that it connects people to their political leaders and the democratic process.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James B. Hunt, October 3, 2001. Interview C-0332. 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:
This is an interview with Governor James B. Hunt of North Carolina for Wake Forest University and Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill. The interview is part of a series of interviews with North Carolina's former governors. The interview was conducted on October 3rd, 2001 at the office of Governor Hunt in Raleigh, North Carolina. The interviewer is Dr. Jack B. Fleer, Department of Political Science, Wake Forest University, tape number 10-03-01JBH. [I do have it the way I want it now. Let's see, it's working and the microphone is good.] We were talking, Governor, about your public leadership position and some attitudes that you had about that role at the end of our last session. I had two more questions that I wanted to deal with. What do you see as the values or utilities of these appearances that you made hundreds of around the state as far as governing the state?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I think maybe I'd put that in about three categories that are invaluable. I think they are first because as governor you continue to learn and talk and listen and find out what's going on and how people feel. It's very important that you continue to learn and be in touch with the people you're leading. Second, they're invaluable in taking the message out, educating people about complex issues, telling them what they have at stake, why certain courses of action are necessary and what the benefits of them are and what the consequences of not acting would be. So it's that matter of being out there educating, informing, helping the electorate, the people for whom you work understand and developing a commitment to a certain course of action. Third and I kind of got an insight of this more recently actually. It's important that people know and have some connection with their leader, their governor, their President. I think it is important. You can debate this, but I think it's important that you certainly at the state level that you [are] trying to get things done, the governor tries to get things done that people know you as more than a face on television. That doesn't mean you maybe can't get by being just a face on the television, but it's important if you're going to get people to really tie in. I'll give you an example. When I went out as I did so many times and had town meetings about education in schools. Obviously I would talk about our statewide Smart Start initiative. I'd talk about our efforts to raise standards for teachers and raise pay to the national average. I would talk about our accountability system and all that. But I would take it right down to that school, to that county, that city, get people talking about what they were doing, getting them thinking about how they can advance these ideas and move this agenda ahead. Have an interchange with them about things I might suggest to them, here's another way to look at it. Here's what's going on over here in a different county and different school and so forth.
JACK FLEER:
So it's not abstract. It's something that they're working on in their local community.
JAMES B. HUNT:
That's right. But the point I was getting at here is I think people need to know their leaders. They need to feel that they are acting, that they are leading and from seeing that happen, participating in some way with it, I believe that gives people a greater sense of purpose and involvement and more ownership of the democratic process.
JACK FLEER:
So is that a matter of developing sort of a trust that he cares about what our lives are like. He cares.
JAMES B. HUNT:
He cares. He understands. He's talking with us, and we're working on this together.
JACK FLEER:
Do you see any disadvantages to spending so much time on these appearances?
JAMES B. HUNT:
No. You've got to do your work. You've got to lead the state. You've got to deal with the legislature; you've got to get your bills through, your programs in place. You've got get the budget in place. You've got to make sure your departments are running well. There are always some problems that come up with that. That's why you need to have a chief of staff. We've talked about that. I concluded that having a strong chief of staff was important to doing your job best. You have to make some choices here. You can either be out there getting these people in all these areas we can see around North Carolina involved in this and doing stuff on their own, doing more than they might otherwise have done and authorizing more leadership here. Or you can just sit here and be kind of a chief executive, just being the heads of things and take your chances on the right stuff happening out there. I thought I needed to be out there leading. I think the results of that approach are clear.
JACK FLEER:
Did you ever get a feeling that—
JAMES B. HUNT:
You have to like it. You have to want to be out there. You have to feel like you're doing good and get good results from it and personally enjoy which I did. You have different kinds of chief executives. Some of them would rather stay in Raleigh. But I think it was a far better approach to leadership to get out with the people and get them engaged and excited and moving and feeling a part of it and being proud to be a part of it.