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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, September 18, 1986. Interview C-0036. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Decline of personal quality of politics and power of the governorship

Scott cites two significant changes in politics since he served as governor. First, political campaigning has lost its personal quality. Politicians rely on polling and fundraising rather than face-to-face encounters with voters. Second, the governorship of North Carolina has steadily lost influence, and its power has been absorbed into more anonymous positions. Scott ends by describing a potential political trajectory for a young aspirant seeking political power without the pomp.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Robert W. (Bob) Scott, September 18, 1986. Interview C-0036. 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

You know politics has changed a lot too. It begin to change about the first time I served as governor, or the only time I served as governor. But back then, that was about the last of the campaigning in the old style, where you went out and shook all the hands you could, attended rallies, and so forth. We didn't hire consultants. We didn't hire advisors. Yes, you had some television, and we thought we spent a lot of money on it. We only had one poll, I think. Somebody told me that was the thing to do so I had a poll run, and it just verified what I instinctively knew. We didn't even know what kind of questions to ask in the poll. It wasn't so sophisticated, no computers. You didn't sit down and have a voter analysis, precinct, a targeted precinct, those sophisticated techniques you have today. You campaigned on guts, instinct. Somebody would come running up to you and say, so and so said thus and such and so forth, and you gave a reply right then, you know, instinctively. I don't think it's near as much fun today as it was. Maybe it's because I'm older. We had a lot of enthusiasm. A lot of young people involved. I don't see that today. You go into a candidate's office today, it's computerized. It's impersonal. You've got printouts that you're analyzing. You've got marketing specialists. You've got polling specialists. You've got all these consultants and the candidate is over there like a box of washing powder that's being marketed. The candidate spends most of his time with select groups of people who can provide money because you've got to have it. There's not much of this business of sort of barnstorming. Oh yeah, they'll do a little bit of that just for the show of it. But it began to change along about that period of time. In Holshouser's time they had a little more polling and that kind of thing. Of course, Jim Hunt was a master at organization, and Joe Grimsley. They were sharp minds. They really put together a good tight organization, well run. Joe, particularly, who is president of one of our colleges now, Joe Grimsley, he and I reminisce right much. They had keen insight on targeting precincts and what areas they needed to give attention to and that kind of thing. Well, all these things began to change. Well, you know, if I got back into politics today I'd be totally lost. I don't understand the rules of the game, how it's done. I keep an interest in it. I don't know, being governor I don't think is all that, maybe, as much today because the legislature continues to erode the powers of the governor. Yes, it's got a lot of prestige and pomp and ceremony and a lot of perks and all like that. But if I were a young person today wanting to go into politics, I would look around over the state and find me a county that would be relatively safe politically——as far as the political party is concerned, it's not likely to change too much——establish residence there, and then I'd run for the legislature. Being elected, I'd try to get on the good side of the leadership of the legislature and maybe get appointed, sooner or later, as chairman of one of the powerful committees, I wouldn't give a damn who's governor. I would maybe some day get to be Speaker of the House or President-Pro tem of the Senate. I wouldn't care who was governor. Well, Liston Ramsey is an excellent example, you know. If you don't aspire to the perks of the governorship and so forth, man, you've got far more power than the governor will ever know. If I were a young person and didn't care to run for public office, but wanted to be involved in it, I would go to law school and get me a law degree, and I'd get me a job on the staff of the legislature. I would be one of those who would be writing the legislation that these legislators talk about and so forth. I would be the one who would be drafting the language and putting in the fine print. I've seen it happen many times. The staff of the legislature, just like the staff of the Congress now, are the most powerful people in the state of North Carolina with the exception of the super sub-committee of the legislature. That is the speaker, the chairmen of the appropriations committees, and the senate president pro tem, and their chairman. As one who lobbies the legislature for education, the community colleges in particular, my job is easier in many respects because I don't worry about 175, or 170 legislators. I worry about eight or ten and the staff of the legislature. I lobby them constantly. The rest of them I just, I'm courteous to.
These eight or ten are the committee.
Yeah, it's what we call the super sub-committee. Basically it's the speaker of the house, the chairman of the house appropriations committee, and the chairman of the house budget committee, and to some extent the chairman of the house higher education committee and their counterparts in the senate. I stay on the good side with the lieutenant governor but he's not a member of the legislature. I'm more interested in his committee chairman.