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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Feeling the weight of responsibility as he swears the oath of office

Scott claims that he never thought much about a political career, but that his ascent to North Carolina's governorship took place somewhat naturally, perhaps as a result of his father's political background. Although he may have approached the possibility of officeholding without as much thought as some other politicians, he felt the weight of responsibility as he took the oath of office, he remembers.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, February 11, 1998. Interview C-0336-2. 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, when we completed the interview last week, we had gotten you elected to the position, and it might be an appropriate time to ask you: why did you want to be governor of North Carolina?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
To use a well-worn phrase, that's a good question, and I'm not so sure that I knew why, or that there was any clearly-defined reason or motivation to seek the office of governor. It probably was more a combination of factors, one being the political background that I had, the environment in which I was raised, although I repeat again there was no planned career path in government and politics that I developed to pursue. But no doubt that factor of having had a political background, on the part of my father and other members of the family, influenced my getting into politics. Secondly, as far as the office of governor was concerned, having served as lieutenant governor, or—at the time the decision was made to run for governor, I was lieutenant governor—it's sort of like getting a promotion in a company, I suppose. You know, you've done this job, and you think you've done it reasonably well, and there's an opening at the next tier, and so you apply for it. It was a logical progression, although no one in North Carolina had ever moved from the office of lieutenant governor directly to the office of governor. In fact, I didn't know better at the time, and I don't think it would have made any difference, but I thought—obviously, having been lieutenant governor, I could see and understand more clearly the role of the governor and the ability of the governor to make things happen and to provide leadership. I guess subconsciously I felt that I did have something to offer, I'm not sure what—leadership, commitment to do a good job. And I think it was just a blend of those things. I did not have, initially, an agenda; that evolved during the latter part of my term as lieutenant governor and as I began to more and more get into the role of a potential candidate for governor. When I say that, I'm talking about in my public appearances, statements, speeches that I made. I think there was a certain assumption on the part of friends and supporters throughout the state that, because my father had been governor and served for a long time as commissioner of agriculture before that, that that's what I would do, almost as if it was a given that I would run for governor. I say this with the benefit of hindsight.
JACK FLEER:
One of the newspapers at the time that you were elected and inaugurated commented that you may well have been the best prepared person for the governorship in the history of the state. But I wonder, as you were taking the oath, what thoughts went through your mind about the tremendous responsibility which you were about to assume?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
It's interesting you should ask that question, because even before you framed the question, the thought was going through my mind at that very moment. And I have said publicly several times, not in speeches but in talking with other people, that I did have strange feeling come over me as the chief justice Hunt Parker administered the oath of office. Yes, there was the excitement of the moment, and I knew that following my taking the oath, I had to step to the podium and deliver the talk that I had prepared. But there was a feeling, very difficult to describe, and I can only use rather generic words, but a feeling of weight. Not burden in the sense of a painful burden, but like, "OK, you asked for it, you got it, and now what are you going to do with it?" You can't just walk off the court and say, "I won the ball game." And I realized that there was an awesome responsibility. And perhaps that thought came to me too as the words—the oath was being administered by the chief justice, and those words: "upholding the laws and the constitution", not only of the state but federal. And the importance of that sunk home to me. It also occurred to me later, I'm sure, that day, or very soon, I thought, "Well, I've taken the oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and of North Carolina. One of these days I might get around to reading it!" I had never read the constitution.
JACK FLEER:
Of the state.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Of the state, and only parts of the federal one, whatever the occasion might have been that caused me to want to read that. And I read it, and not only that, I got real interested in it, and I went back—this was some weeks later—I went back and got copies of the previous constitutions that had been written and adopted. It was interesting to read some of those earlier constitutions, and the amendments attached to them. One being that at one time you could not hold public office if you were a minister, if you were a preacher. I always thought that was interesting. Such things as that.
JACK FLEER:
Did you have, obviously despite your service in the lieutenant governorship and therefore a close look at the way government operated, did you have any second thoughts at that time?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
About why I did it?
JACK FLEER:
About anything like that.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
No, no. One of the advantages of youth, and as a governor I guess I was considered young, is that you don't really think there's anything that you can't handle. I've said, tongue in cheek, a number of times, people would ask me: "Well, if the constitution had permitted you to, would you have run again?" And I said, "Well, I probably would, but you know, I always would have some reservations about anybody who, having once served as governor, didn't have better judgment than to run again. I would wonder about whether they were competent. One should know better." But that's not really the truth. And incidentally, as a little side note, if one is elected governor and does have an opportunity to serve a consecutive term, subject to the voters, would you run for a second term? Well, assuming that you hadn't really created terrible political mistakes, so that there was objects to build on, yes, you'd probably run again, because of two reasons. First of all, there's always unfinished work that you want to continue to do, and this is particularly true in your first term, you learn how to handle the levers of power and learn the job, then, by the time you get your program underway, you want to see it through, and there's always something new coming up and you'd like to fine-tune what you've already done, perhaps. But there's another reason that is perhaps equally compelling, and this is a purely political reason. All those people out there who got you into office, many of whom you have tried to place in government, in key posts, they want you to run again, because they, too, want to retain their positions. It may be for economic reasons, it may be for political reasons, it may be for just a pure sense of power and authority, wanting to be in a cabinet post or whatever. And then, there's just your friends out there—if they think you've done a good job, they want you to run again. So there would be pressure. I never experienced, that of course.