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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 >>

Pride and regret in reflecting on gubernatorial term

Scott is satisfied with his term as governor, he says, but he also has regrets, especially the disruptions of the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests, which he feels interfered with the business of the state. He notes some of the accomplishments of his term as well, including some educational initiatives and, of particular pride to Scott, improvements to a school in a rural county and water works for a mountain community.

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

A few questions to end with, on looking back on your service as governor. When you became governor, I assume you had a notion, if not a formally written statement, about what you wanted to accomplish. Were you able to accomplish what you wanted to?
[pause] Heh! I'm trying to think back, what it was, why I ran. [Laughter] Let's put it this way. I'm satisfied, I'm pleased with what we were able to do. I wish we could have done more. I think we could have done more, provided we had had the opportunity and the time to do so. As I stated earlier, in one of the earlier interviews, that the times in which we lived required us to give so much time and attention and effort to the matters of civil unrest, caused by students being upset about the Vietnam War, about civil rights, the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy and all that. The marching in the streets, the fires, the calling out of the National Guard, all of those things that consumed so much of our attention. And one can only speculate what we might have been able to do, had we been able to devote those energies and that time to more positive things. I've heard said, many times, that the great story of North Carolina will never be told, because it didn't happen. I refer, of course, to—we didn't have the larger tragedies that some other states experienced with respect to civil rights issues, activism. We had our problems, we didn't get by without them, but we were able to prevent a lot of things from happening that were just on the verge of exploding. So I guess in that sense I feel very good about it, but the history books will never show it. So I think we could have done more, and I'm not sure where that would have been. And yet we were able to do some things.
Well, when we think about a couple of things we've mentioned earlier, specifically, say, for example, the tobacco tax. Has that met the purpose and the goals that you thought it would, whenever you proposed it and worked hard to get it to pass?
Yes, it did. We were able to get the money, and we did in fact lay the groundwork for the public school kindergarten system by getting these demonstration units going, and starting the training for public school kindergarten teachers, and all those things. It didn't show up much until it began to show up in the Holshouser administration more. But we were able to get it started. And I feel that the School of Veterinary Medicine, at NC State, was decided in my office, and I think people know that. When I approved the program for a department of veterinary science at NC State, which was the forerunner of the veterinary medical school. And we knew that that was the way we were going to go about it. Some years later, when the school was established and the ribbon-cutting was going on, and dignitaries were there, I got a hurry-up phone call from somebody, and the powers that be over there were chagrined, because the new dean they'd brought in didn't remember my role in it, and somebody had told them, said, "Well, why isn't Governor Scott here? It started there, in his office." The young lady was just apologetic all up one side and down the other. But anyway.
What about the restructuring of the higher education system?
The restructuring of the higher education system, yes, that, and we got a school of medicine at East Carolina University—I don't think it started in my administration, but— it may have, I just don't remember. But anyway, there were things. Yeah, we got some things done, and we did bring a little but of order out of the executive branch of government, through restructuring. And the little things that give me personal satisfaction to this day. I don't know whether you ever read the book The Longview. There's a summary, admittedly put together by one of our staff, of our administration. I'll give you a copy of it— and it's basically a synopsis of what we did in various departments, environmental law, roads, things like that. And there's a chapter on little things. And I'll give you a quick example. And to this day, every time I go to Ocracoke, I take pride, I go by and see that little school there. Well, I didn't build the school. Hyde County, of course, is an economically poor county—rich in many ways, but economically poor. And they don't have enough students out on Ocracoke to have a valid school. So they finally got up some money to build, somehow or another, through grants and all that, to build a nice modern schoolhouse, grades one through twelve, I think—at that time it might have been one through seven, because they could take them by ferry to Hatteras. Anyway, nice new modern house, but it didn't have any equipment. They spent all the money they had to build the building, together with the federal grants. And they pleaded with me to try to help them and Craig Phillips, who was Secretary of Public Instruction at that time, told me about the situation, and said, "You know, they've got this nice modern school there, they've got some good teachers…" [END OF TAPE 2, SIDE B] [TAPE 2, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 3, SIDE A]
…and I said, "Can't we find some money somewhere to buy some equipment, some visual aids, projectors, audiovisual stuff?" And he said, "I've got my people looking, we just don't have any." And I said, "I tell you what we'll do." I said, "All these people, these companies, have these big contracts with schools. They're making a pile of money off the state. What we're going to do, we're going to call them in here and say, ‘Now, you can afford to give a projector or two to this school, and you can afford to provide some blackboards, we called them then, chalkboards.’ And on down the line. And say, ‘If you don't, you better be careful about where you think you're going to get your next contract. And if you do, it doesn't mean you're going to get the next contract, but you're going to get a lot of good publicity out of it.’ " And that's why, at that time, that became of the best-equipped schools in North Carolina. Well, that gave me immense satisfaction. Another was getting a water system for a little community way up in the mountains, who had the mica mines up there, close down. And with it, the water system. So the only way they could get water was walking up to the springs in the mountains and bringing the water down. They didn't qualify for a federal program, any particular program. But we patched together—I put one person full-time on that, and we patched together enough federal programs to get them a water system up there. For ten, fifteen years after I left the governor's office I would get a letter every year, on the anniversary date of the opening of that water system, thanking me for what we did. Well, most other parts of the state didn't know and didn't care about all that, but it gave me a big satisfaction, because to me, that exemplified what government can do for people. And I have a very strong feeling that that's the purpose of government: to help those who, for whatever reason, cannot find the resources to help themselves. People in this state, they will help themselves if they can, but when they can't, seems to me the government has a responsibility to step in. And all those in this day and time who talk about getting government off their backs, less government, that means they've already got theirs and they don't give a damn about whether the others are going to get theirs or not. I know in the community college system, we had fifty-eight community colleges. Fifty of them had small business centers; we couldn't get enough money for a small business center at each of these colleges. Now, those—at first, everybody got behind it, "We want this," and they supported it in the legislature, all the colleges. And finally, fifty of them got theirs, and the rest of them, they said, "Well, we got ours," and they wouldn't support it anymore. People get their road paved, then, fine, and they don't care what the hell for a road bond issue—they got theirs. That's human nature. So what you have to do is be on constant lookout, trying to protect the interests of those who don't have a voice and—yeah, you're going to help the others too, but you don't have to give them as much attention, cause they're going to get theirs.