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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 >>

Impact of Republican ascendancy on the Democratic Party in North Carolina

Hunt discusses the negative impact of the 1984 and 2000 elections on North Carolina’s Democratic Party. Although the 1980s and 1990s saw a Republican upswing nationally, Hunt argues that the moderate nature of the state's Democratic Party helped to keep the party in power and intact.

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:
Did you feel that when you finished as governor in '84 and again in 2001 or 2000 that the Democratic party was stronger than what it was whenever you started?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I thought it was strong. In '84 obviously we had a Republican elected governor. The toughest year the Democrats had had up to then. You could argue that it was the toughest year. It was kind of like Reagan's smashing victory. It was kind of like FDRs [unclear] modern times. We had strong leadership. We had strong leadership in the majorities in the legislature, council of state, our programs had been put in place. You had the big change in 1994 of course. So I felt like we had strong party leadership, and it was very helpful and it boded well for the future, but all of this time the strength of the parties has been going down. The effectiveness of the parties has been going down.
JACK FLEER:
Parties generally, not just the Democratic Party.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yeah, parties generally. You continue to have some realignment within North Carolina. Conservative Democrats continued although it slowed down a lot. You had an absolute rush to the Republican Party, and it still continues in many southern states. We stopped that. I think that's one of the things we've been very at least Democrats from our point of view can feel good about. We gave leadership. We were sponsoring programs, putting them into place, progress in education, economic development which I should always talk about, public safety, environmental protection and so on, children, things that appeal to people by and large. They appeal to the majority of the people. Because of that and the fact that most people thought we were kind of on the right track in North Carolina, including most Republicans, you didn't have a great rushing away from the Democratic Party. People continued to feel like its leaders were doing things that they agreed with. So we kept the Democratic Party in contention. South Carolina, Virginia, all around are going Republican, staying Republican. North Carolina has kept a strong Democratic position. But even though that's been strong, the Republicans have continued to get a little higher in terms of numbers and strength, and of course the big thing out there now is the independents. I strongly proposed that the independents be able to vote in the Democratic Party primaries. I am proud we do that. Registered independents or unaffiliated, or whatever it is. People that don't register with one party or the other. So that's how I see that. I think the kind of Republican tide that swept over the South was not as strong in North Carolina, and I think the Democrats mainly because of our leadership in education [unclear] and developing these other issues kept the Democratic Party in a strong position.
JACK FLEER:
North Carolina is one of the few states, there are about ten or eleven that hold their state elections at the same time as presidential elections. Did you generally find that to be beneficial or a burden?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Well, I kind of changed my mind on that over time. I would say that probably maybe into my second term I used to think maybe we ought to change our election date. I didn't ever propose this, but I was kind of growing in my mind. But and of course the Democratic Party was out of favor with a lot of people, a lot of southerners.
JACK FLEER:
The national Democratic Party.
JAMES B. HUNT:
But after Bill Clinton came in, he was more of a moderate and proposed a balanced budget and in favor of capital punishment, in favor of welfare reform and things of that sort, leaving off the stuff that happened at the end in terms of how he was. So the Democratic Party people didn't feel that resentment. They did in '94 and expressed it. There are feelings about him too, by the way, about big government, all this stuff that came out with his health care plans but that then settled down. I haven't seen any polls on this. But my sense was that people began to sort of give the Democrats at least there wasn't a lot of resentment against the party and people didn't see it as these way out liberals who are in favor of stuff we don't like and we won't consider them. So I think, I now believe and I did toward the end of my term that running in a year that the president is not a bad idea. Every party looks at it as how does it benefit us. Certainly it's a time when, in our case, minorities and perhaps women feel pretty strongly about the positions of the national candidates. So I think it kind of cuts both ways. I don't really know what the advantage is now, but I don't see it to be a great disadvantage to the Democratic Party that I used to think it was becoming.