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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 >>

Reflecting on his failed effort to retake the governorship in 1980

Trying to retake the governorship in 1980 was "a dumb mistake," according to Scott. New arrivals in the state had no idea who he was, and he was running against an incumbent able to take advantage of new rules allowing governors to run for reelection. Scott weighs this new rule and the rule change giving the governor the veto, as well as governors' authority to hire and fire.

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:
Now, you did in fact decide to run in 1980 for governor, against the incumbent governor, Jim Hunt. Could you talk a little bit about that decision and that experience, in terms of its impact upon the well-being of the Democratic party in the state?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
I'll take the last part of that first. I don't know what impact, if any, it had upon the Democratic party; I suspect very little. In retrospect, politically, it was a dumb mistake. There was really no reason any rational person would, unless [unclear] —there's no reason that any person—politically that had experience would try that. Two things I think had occurred. First of all, I had been out of politics a little bit, and I'd gone to Washington and worked in the Carter administration for two years as party chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission. And I didn't realize how much the state was changing demographically, the influx of people coming in from other states who were not Southern Democrats, and we often said that a Northern Republican and a Southern Democrat were about the same thing. But I didn't realize how much it was changing. It was brought home to me during the campaign, when I was on the campus of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. And—how many years had it been since I'd left the governor's office?
JACK FLEER:
Eight years.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Eight years. And nobody knew who I was! And I began to realize then that there were an awful lot of people who, if they hadn't moved into the state, they'd become of voting age, that eight years was a lot—that's a sizeable chunk of the electorate. Now, another reason, though, that I wanted to run, or one of the reasons that I wanted to run, was not a valid reason to run for anything. I really kind of wanted to test the power of the incumbency. And I found out very quickly. But it was not only the incumbency; Jim Hunt just had far better organizational skills, he had a tight organization, well under control, and I was never very much of a control person. All the people that I had had supporting me had gone on to other things; a good number of them were Jim Hunt people. And it caused them considerable heartburn that I would come back and try to run again. And I hadn't really thought it through, I guess. So I started—it was a dumb thing to do. Halfway through the campaign, I realized that I had made a mistake. But you're in it; you have to swim as much as you can, as hard as you can.
JACK FLEER:
Now, that particular decision, of course, was taken in the context of a very important change in the office of the governorship, that is the right of a governor to seek reelection. Of course, you didn't have that option whenever you were in the position. And in addition to that, since you've left the office, the office of governor has been given the veto power, very recently. As you think about your own administration and the four years that you have served, do you think of any differences it would have made if yoiu had been given either of those authorities as governor? Are those important changes in the office of the governor?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
They are. They're fundamental. You know, one can only speculate what one would do, if they had the opportunity to run again and if they had the veto power. I think the opportunity to run again would have impacted perhaps some of the decisions in my first term as governor. Everything I said and everything I did would have been predicated on how it's going to play in the next election. Not everything, but most major things. I perhaps would not have been quite as bold and daring; I may not have ventured asking for a tobacco tax, because there was a block of voters I probably got, by and large, in the first go-round, because of my agricultural background and because of my dad. But I sure as heck wouldn't have gotten them in the next go-round. So I would have been thinking about the next election. That's a negative to giving two terms. The other side of that coin is that you strive mightily to do good in your first term so you'll earn the voters' support for the next election. So I don't know whether one offsets the other or not. Perhaps Ben Moore intended to strengthen the party, particularly if they had been aware of the rising tide of the Republican party, [unclear] the possibility of me being elected. As far as the veto part is concerned, it wouldn't have made as much difference then as it probably would now, particularly because you had a legislature of the same party. Now, that is, with the two-party system in the state, I think it's well the governor does have the veto power. The two-party system we talked about a moment ago is fine, and I'm all for that, provided it doesn't lead to gridlock, and one can't predict that, really. If it's so close that there's gridlock—and we saw it happen in Congress, we haven't seen it in the state, but obviously the smoothness and the rapidity with which legislation is acted is adversely effected by that having one house Democratic and one house Republican. It would be far better to the entire legislature one party.
JACK FLEER:
Of course, those two things, the veto and the right of succession, were absent when you were governor. Were there other powers or authorities that you would have hoped for as governor, that would have helped you be a more effective governor?
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
I think the governor can do a better job being an administrator if the appointments that he or she makes would be at the pleasure of the governor rather than for a specified term. You appoint a person for a specified term, of course, they're there, and there's not much you can do about it. It's very awkward and cumbersome, time-consuming process to remove—have to be removed for cause. The governor can't just say, "Listen, I thought you were going to do a better job than you're doing, and you're not, so I'm going to ask you to step down." You can't do that on most appointments. I don't think it's—the big change that I see from that time till now, of course, is the fact that the legislature has involved itself more and more in the affairs of the executive branch, one of which is to say that they, the legislators, are going to be represented on most these boards that are appointed, commissions that are appointed. In fact, they almost dominate some of them. Well, that's the executive branch's role, as I see it, unless it's the committee set up by the administration itself. But they want their presence made on all those boards. And I'm not an attorney, but I think that that becomes a constitutional issue. It did become—
JACK FLEER:
It did, in the 1980s, the separation of powers issue.
ROBERT W. (BOB) SCOTT:
Right. And I think that's still there, I think the legislature's skating real close to the edge when they insist on getting on these executive branch boards. The veto power probably will come more and more into use as we get used to it.