Jim Holshouser & North Carolina's Changing Politics

Jun 21, 2013

Credit NC General Assembly

Former North Carolina Governor Jim Holshouser was laid to rest today. He died this week at age 78 in a state very different from the one he governed 4 decades ago.

His Republican Party has changed a lot too.  Congressman Howard Coble served in Holshouser's cabinet.  "I think he was concerned in enlarging our tent," Coble told host Frank Stasio on The State of Things. "We have some folks in our party who would like to build a barrier around the tent and permit only those who agree identically with every issue, and that's not practical."

The battles that shaped today's more conservative GOP could be seen in the 1972 election, says longtime North Carolina Democratic political strategist Gary Pearce.

"You had a collision in the Republican Party between the more traditional, mountain, Charlotte business conservative that Holshouser came out of," Pearce told Stasio. "And then you had sort of a rising, eastern North Carolina-based, more hard-edged conservatism, partly based on racial issues...[Jesse] Helms came out of that tradition. You had Holshouser and Helms, and I think the two factions started battling it out."

Republican Carter Wrenn, a key strategist for Helms who writes the blog Talking About Politics with Pearce, says it's silly to look at Holshouser through the lens of today's GOP.

"What's happened over the last 30 years is the two parties have basically re-aligned and become more ideological because of the movement of conservatives into the Republican Party, which has made it a conservative entity," said Wrenn on The State of Things. "And their movement out of the Democrat Party left it more moderate or progressive or liberal or whatever label you want to put on it."

Meanwhile, today's political landscape in North Carolina is marked by the Moral Monday protests at the state legislature, led by the NAACP and others.

Holly Jordan, a 29-year-old public school teacher in Durham, was one of those arrested at last Monday's protest.  She told Stasio she participated because of what she sees as declining resources and support for public schools. "I want to be able to go back to school in the fall and tell my students I've done everything I can think of to help support you," said Jordan, "and for me that includes the step of civil disobedience."

Gray Newman, a government worker from Mecklenburg County, was also at last Monday's protest. Although an active Democrat, he told Stasio he'd been a fan of Republican Governor Pat McCrory as mayor of Charlotte. "I really thought he was going to take this bipartisanship up to Raleigh with him," said Newman, "and I just haven't seen it."