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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 >>

Advantages and disadvantages of partisanship

While a political party's partisanship often develops the party's political ideology, Hunt argues that it also alienates mainstream voters. Instead, he asserts that bipartisanship produces measurable results.

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

Too hypothetical on that. You alluded earlier to the fact that while you felt the party leadership was a very important part of your job as governor and your ability to be a successful governor, there are also concerns or interests in being the governor of all the people. Where does this partisanship or where did partisanship play the biggest role in your services as governor, being a Democrat was really an important thing?
Well, it plays an important role in your own philosophy. We develop our values, our ideas, our commitments as we come along, and party involvement can help young people understand what kinds of public policies you should have if you're going to do certain things. If you're mainly concerned about holding taxes down and keeping the government as small and as ineffective as you can, then you have one set of values sort of like I guess the libertarians do. If you believe that government can do certain things and should give people an equal and full opportunity in life, you say that different things are important. A perfect example right now when people realize that Ronald Reagan was wrong, and government is not the enemy. He said it. People kind of went along with it. That became the type of thinking for decades. Government is the enemy. I was there when he said it. I told you that earlier. So the party is important in helping you kind of have a scheme, an approach to public affairs and what you do. But let me go on to say to you that throughout my career in public service while I continued to be a strong Democrat, I believed in the party and supported the party and was active in it. I became more and more—and I've probably said to you this in earlier sessions—I came more and more to want to identify with people that I believed, with whom I agreed in terms of what needed to be done. I now want to find the people who want to help children in those earliest years get a smart start wherever I find them, and I want to make common cause with them and work with them. The same thing in terms of public schools including the very important matter of standards and accountability and assessing. I strongly disagree with many people in my party that don't think you ought to test kids. So I would make common cause with many Republicans on that issue. But many Democrats understand you have to do that, too. Bush proposed it. So I just think that and unfortunately I think being too party bound is a mistake. It means you can't consider other approaches. It's a mistake that I think the Republicans are making right now in North Carolina. You're writing about the past, but it may have some short term benefits. But I think people ought to have a chance to vote their conscience, vote their mind. I believe these rules in the house that make it impossible for the majority to prevail or even be heard. I think they're wrong. I think they're undemocratic and they're wrong. They're not fair. I think excessive partisanship can become a real problem. It's something we have to be aware of and deal with.
In terms of policy issues, the national Democratic Party had certain platform positions. Even the state Democratic Party had certain platform positions. Could you name any times when you found yourself in disagreement with those and believed they were not the positions that were best for the state of North Carolina.
I can't remember exactly, but I always considered party platforms to be things that have some value. But to be honest with you the more extreme elements of the party generally write the platforms. Some of them would rather write the platform than win an election. So I always found a number of provisions in my party platform that I didn't agree with. Gosh the other party has a lot of positions that their moderate members would not agree with. Of course after a while you kind of realize people don't pay any attention to them anyhow. But there was a time that the Democrats were really hurt by the image that they were so far out liberal and not in touch with common people and not sharing values with the average man. My party probably never agreed with me on capital punishment and some of the tough measures I thought it would take to be certain we [unclear] . I tried to get my party to favor some things that I couldn't get them to favor. Things like I guess at times they didn't support veto and succession and things like that. But a lot of people do want to support them. So that's I always found the party platforms to be a real, should say political problem. People wanted to have them [unclear] I've given leadership to the Democratic Party nationally.
I knew that you had worked on some.
[unclear] this past time. I was asked to do that because they knew me as a moderate and they thought I could successfully navigate those shoals and come out with a document that was mainstream as opposed to one the extremists had kind of gotten their planks in and which would upset average Americans. Party platforms became something that you had to try to manage and minimize the damage coming from them.