Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with S. Davis (Dave) Phillips, January 27, 1999. Interview I-0084. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Remembering stint as Secretary of Commerce

Phillips believes that clean politics in North Carolina have played a significant role in the state's economic growth. Phillips himself formed a close relationship with the state government when Governor Jim Martin asked him to join his administration as the Secretary of Commerce. Phillips remembers the experience with great fondness.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with S. Davis (Dave) Phillips, January 27, 1999. Interview I-0084. 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

JM: Tell me about whether or not you see, it seems--I would infer from what you've just said that you see a pattern of essential continuity across the various gubernatorial administrations here in this state across say twenty or thirty years, even not withstanding the Jim Holshouser Republican administration that popped up in the early '70s and then Jim Martin's tenure. Democrat, Republican, Democrat, Republican, you pretty much see a steady policy, climate atmosphere in North Carolina for business. DP: Very. We've had a good clean government. A lot of states around us have had, I hate to use the word dirty government but they haven't been clean. There's no scandal in North Carolina. Whether they're Republican or Democrat, it's been quality leadership. The Republicans came in the first time in a hundred years and ran the house and that's just fine to have a balance like that. It's switched back now to all Democrats. Jim Martin was an excellent Governor for North Carolina. I guess we really are gifted that we've had one guy who's been Governor for sixteen years or will have been sixteen years. He's been fabulous. He was a politician, a pure politician, the first eight years. The second go around, which I had the wonderful opportunity to work for him, that was behind him. He had matured to where he really understood the dynamics of North Carolina and loved the educational capabilities and what have you, loved and appreciated economic development. When he interviewed me, he called me out of the blue and asked me if I would--. JM: I was about to ask, one of those questions-- DP: All right. JM: Tell me your story of how Dave Phillips came to be involved in that level in the state's political affairs. What's the background there? DP: He called me. I had become impressed with him and what he said in the campaign that he wanted to be a good business Governor. There was a concern the first go around that he was a little bit too liberal. He had never tasted business. He was honest, energetic and enthusiastic, but he didn't totally understand the dynamics of business. The person he was running against was a businessperson but not highly regarded. I felt that Jim Hunt would be the best for the state of North Carolina. I was absolutely intrigued when he called me the day before Thanksgiving and asked me to come to Raleigh or asked me if I would consider being the Secretary of Commerce. I said, 'I'd love too.' I went the day after Thanksgiving and sat in his office, and I thought we'd talk for an hour, and we talked for three hours. I finally got around to asking him the questions as to, which concerned me. Well how committed was he to economic development? He said that he'd say in his inaugural address that he is a changed person. He used that terminology. He said that I have learned being out of government for eight years, being a lawyer dealing with businesses that 'By golly I understand how economic development works.' He said, 'I am totally committed.' Not that he wasn't in this first eight years of administration but he didn't stress it. Here he stressed it. He made me feel good about it because most people even though I was a registered Democrat, most people thought I was a Republican. I had supported a lot of Republicans, and I frankly was somewhat concerned that he might hold that against me. I will never forget when he asked me if there was anything else I want to say to him. I thought well good gracious I thought well I'll just tell him that I had supported a lot of Republican candidates, and I'm sure it will come out, and I didn't want to embarrass him, and he needs to know that. One of which was Jesse Helms in '84, which he ran against. So I just had to run it out. I just had to level. He understood. Well anyway, he offered me the job in a couple of weeks. It's the most exciting four years that I have ever spent. I loved working for him. He's a hard worker. He is honest. He includes you in everything. You're right by his side, and he traveled the world. I met fascinating people from all over the world. But also I was able to really carry out a lot of fabulous programs on economic development that he was totally for. We discussed his philosophy and he let me flesh out. But he totally supported it. A lot of it was identical to his vision anyway.