An humble statesman
Former Gov. Jim Holshouser, who died Monday at age 78, may have projected an humble, man-of-the-people demeanor, but the mountain-born statesman left a vivid impression on North Carolina and its politics.
You can make the argument that it was Holshouser who helped lay the groundwork for the transformation that last year gave Republicans control of the N.C. House, Senate and governorship. He was the state’s first Republican governor of the 20th century, the culmination of years of work in the political trenches as he served in the legislature and in state party posts during an era of turmoil and transition. As noted in “The North Carolina Century: Tarheels Who Made a Difference,” “Few people played a greater role in turning North Carolina into a two-party state than Holshouser — as legislative leader, state party chairman, and then governor.”
Holshouser won the governorship in 1972, the year that saw Jesse Helms elected senator and Richard Nixon re-elected to a second term, defeating Democrat George McGovern. (With typical self-deprecation, Holshouser would later say “probably the person who had more to do with my getting elected governor than anybody else was George McGovern.”)
By law, Holshouser was limited to one term in office. Despite facing a heavily Democratic majority in the legislature, he made the most of it. A lifelong advocate for educaton and literacy, he backed the creation of a statewide kindergarten system while also overseeing consolidation of the state’s public colleges and universities into the UNC system. He supported regulations to safeguard our fragile coast. He helped bring health care to rural areas and advocated for expansion of the state park system. He appointed several blacks and women to high visibility posts in state government. Not bad for a former back-bencher.
Holshouser’s effectiveness derived in part from a cordial relationship with state Democrats. That was due to necessity, since they controlled the votes, but it was also part of his temperament to seek common ground and emphasize stewardship over factionalism. “I always viewed myself as somebody who tried to build a consensus, which means some compromising along the way,” he said .
After leaving office, Holshouser continued his service to the state in many ways, working to advance education, economic development and good government at all levels.
Jim Holshouser never put party or politics above service to the state he loved. He was a true statesman and a visionary who promoted good government and its role in improving the lives of all citizens.