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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 >>

Utility of succession, veto, and budgetary powers to a governor

Hunt describes obtaining the gubernatorial powers of succession and the veto during his terms in office. He maintains that the governor should have flexible and broad powers to yield economic and long-term effective policies for the state.

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:
Governor, during your service in the office of governor the formal authority and powers of the office changed rather significantly. You had right of succession, veto power, enhanced budget power. Do you feel that these have strengthened the office in measurable ways?
JAMES B. HUNT:
Yes. In several ways, first of all a governor has the possibility of serving two terms. If he does in fact serve two terms, he learns an awful lot about the job. I don't think there's any question about that. In my second term in my first go around, I learned more about it. I was able to be effective. Coming back for me was an unusual situation. I don't know if that will ever happen again or not. I've done four terms. I'd do even more. I was more effective than I was the first time. So you learn more how to do it successfully. With the possibility that you'll run again people are more apt to stay on the team. You don't become a lame duck the first time. You're more able to press forward, have the continuity in programs. My last two terms we implemented Smart Start. It took us several years to do it. We phased in the funding. We couldn't jump to two or three hundred thousand dollars, millions dollars a year all at once. So succession means that people are more apt to stay on your team, know that you can be there longer, stay committed to both you and the carrying through of your program. It's all about your ability to lead and to make things happen and to help people. These are just tools. The veto is I think quite important. We haven't seen it used yet. I never used it, and Mike Easley has not thus far. But both of us have made it very clear that we would if necessary. I think this budget passed last week in large measure because Easley said I will not sign another—
JACK FLEER:
Extension.
JAMES B. HUNT:
Extension. Whatever you call it. Continuing funding bill. He wouldn't do it. That would've never happened before. The governor just had to bend to the will of the legislature. On many occasions where environmental laws were being threatened. Here I'm talking to low again which I've never been accused of doing much—environmental laws were being threatened, when people were not willing to [do] the right thing on the budget, I made it very clear that I would use the veto. I always said it in a very understated way. I tried not to ever make it a threat. But it was understood. People knew that I would do it, and they know that Easley will do it and governors in the future. Governors in the future will veto things. That will make the legislature more responsible, and it will make positions clearer. I think both of those are sort of powers, tools that made the governor more effective, and I worked hard to get them in place, and I think it was the right thing to do.
JACK FLEER:
Are there other changes having served as governor for sixteen years that you would consider or think the state should consider?
JAMES B. HUNT:
I think, yes, I think the state ought to consider having some of the council of state positions appointed. For a long time I pushed hard to have the superintendent be chosen by the state board of education. I finally gave up on that because I just didn't think it was going to happen. I saw how the people were feeling about giving up any of their right to vote. They were strongly opposed to it. This was I think in large measure because of their suspicion of government and not wanting to give up any of their powers. I feel very strongly that we ought to change the way we select judges. I think they ought to be perhaps panels nominated by knowledgeable and responsible people but appointed by the governor. Let them have a chance to stand for re-election or for another term without. I think the election of judges has become a very unfortunate thing where money is too important. I think it is denying justice and politicizing the position of judge to a certain extent.
JACK FLEER:
Now as governor you appointed a lot of judges.
JAMES B. HUNT:
I sure did. I did appoint a lot of judges. These were where new judgeships were created and where people resigned. I think that if you go through and look at my appointees as judges you will find that they have really been an outstanding group, very knowledgeable. And if you look at district court judges today, you will find people who are far more committed to trying to help young people avoid a life of crime and conquer [unclear] and so forth and things I really stressed. Of course I always stressed judges who would be tough on crime and tough on criminals. You've got two things. I want to be tough on crime, but second I want to help kids. Some people are one or the other but not both. So those are things that I would like to see changed, but in politics you have to be realistic. When you finally conclude, you keep seeing these polls that say eighty percent of the people want to keep voting for their superintendent of public instruction, it's time to run another rabbit.
JACK FLEER:
What about budget powers? Are there any changes in the budget powers that you think ought to be considered?
JAMES B. HUNT:
The governor ought to be given more budget powers, more flexibility, so he can deal with situations. Now we have some of that and Governor Easley just used some of that, but we ought to have more. The legislature started taking that away from the governor back probably in my second term. One place where that really came to bear was when we would need to be recruiting industry, and we always need to, to bring new jobs because you always have jobs leaving particularly in textiles. We would maybe run out of money to be able to commit for worker training or things of that sort. If we didn't have flexibility to move some more money to take it from this area and put it into this area where we needed it for jobs, then we'd just stop getting them. So I think the governor does need more budgetary [flexibility]. He needs more flexibility in how to handle the budget. We kind of reverse that a little bit. The governor had a lot of power. Then a lot of it was taken back. Then I think it started back toward giving the governor the kind of flexibility that he needs. But I think more needs to be done.