Governor Jim Holshouser….Real Change, For The First Time In 100 Years
A WHKP Station Editorial
June 21, 2013
INAUGURATION DAY 1973
North Carolina Governor Jim Holshouser, who died this past Monday, is being memorialized today at funeral Services in Southern Pines. Jim Holshouser truly made history and changed things in his day…and to that point, we’ll share a personal and editorial comment with you today.
It was pitch dark and cold at 4am on the morning of January 5th 1973…when Henderson County Sheriff Albert Jackson, Clerk of Superior Court J. Seldon Osteen and I met on the Second Avenue steps outside the Historic Courthouse…and got into a personal car and started a long day of driving toward Raleigh. Later that day, a young Republican from the mountains named Jim Holshouser was to be inaugurated governor of North Carolina and we were on our way to witness the event. What made the occasion so special for Republicans from the mountains of Western North Carolina, worth the long drive to Raleigh to witness, was the fact that Holshouser, a lawyer and former legislator from Boone in Watauga County, was about to become the first Republican to serve as governor of the Tarheel state in the 20th century; he was actually the first in 100 years.
The last Republican governor before Holshouser was William Holden from Hillsboro. Holden had the mis-fortune of serving as the state’s chief executive in the turbulent years, the “Reconstruction” years, that immediately followed the Civil War. Governor Holden was a devoted Abraham Lincoln-Republican who opposed slavery and supported Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Oddly enough, what was known at the time as the “Conservative” Party was the Democrats in North Carolina; they had taken firm control of both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly in the elections of 1870. Governor Holden drew the anger of those conservative, largely pro-slavery Democrats, when he ordered the state militia into Caldwell and Alamance counties to put down uprisings by the Ku Klux Klan. For using the state’s militia AGAINST the Klan, the pro-Lincoln Governor Holden was taken before the state house of representatives and impeached in December of 1870…and he was officially removed from office on March 23rd, 1871. Post-Civil War and Reconstruction feelings were so strong at the time, newspaper accounts of it all indicated Governor Holden was lucky to have just been removed from office…and not actually hanged on the state capitol grounds.
After that, Democrats held TIGHT control of virtually all North Carolina politics for a full century. What finally changed that was the Richard Nixon landslide in November 1972: Jim Holshouser was elected governor, and Jesse Helms was elected to the United States Senate. Henderson County Republicans, who had lived their whole lives in the definite MINORITY, had reason to celebrate…and that’s why many of us were on our way to Raleigh that chilly January morning in 1973.
Holshouser gave his inaugural address outdoors on the grounds of the state capitol…and we’ll never forget him pointing his finger as he spoke at the nearby state highway building, promising to shake things up, create some fairness in the state road system, and bring some road and highway work into WESTERN North Carolina…for a change.
But as governor, Jim Holshouser also shook up the “good old boy’s club” that had been for so long in control of the state’s university system….so strong had been that “old boy’s club” that many believed if your politics weren’t “right”, or if you didn’t know the “right” people, you did NOT get into the University of North Carolina…and for sure, they believed, you did not get a scholarship. Governor Holshouser changed that by putting the whole university system under the control of a Board of Governors. The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors are elected by the General Assembly…so whichever party controls the legislature, whichever party happens to be the PEOPLE’S choice at the time, controls the university system. That pretty much ended the “old boy’s club” in Chapel Hill…and the university system has grown and flourished under the leadership of a Board of Governors created by Governor Jim Holshouser.
Breaking into and changing the “old boy’s club” that had for a hundred year’s controlled the state’s roads and highways, making it fairer, and bringing some road work and road MONEY into the western part of the state, took a little longer…but Jim Holshouser, the youngest man ever elected governor of North Carolina---he was 38 at the time---got that ball rolling, too. That change, by the way, led some years later to a Henderson County Republican named Kermit Edney being appointed to, and serving on, the state’s highway commission.
So…as Governor Holshouser will be memorialized at his funeral service today down in Southern Pines, where he practiced law in his later years, we’ll be remembering that chilly morning…40 years ago…January 5, 1973…leaving the courthouse in the dark and making that happy 5 hour ride to Raleigh…to witness, to celebrate, to be a part of the most momentous political event in our state in our lifetimes…the inauguration of a Republican MOUNTAIN governor and the first REAL change in power in Raleigh in a hundred years.
As always, we invite your comments…on our comments
By WHKP News Director Larry Freeman