Jim Hunt campaigning for North Carolina Democratic candidates
RALEIGH (AP) — Jim Hunt hasn’t campaigned for himself in 18 years, but North Carolina’s favorite Democrat is revving up the party faithful again while he stumps for legislative candidates and repeats his longtime clarion call to support the public schools.
Associates of the former governor say Hunt is heavily involved in this fall’s General Assembly elections, where Democrats hope to whittle down Republican veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
Hunt, who served four terms as governor from 1977 to 1985 and from 1993 to 2001, has been the featured guest at fundraising events for several individual Democratic candidates.
Hunt also was to headline a private joint fundraiser for the Senate and House Democratic caucus Thursday evening at a Raleigh home. Organizers hoped to draw about 100 people and collect $70,000 for get-out-the-vote efforts for their races.
Distress over Republican education policy, particularly on teacher pay, is what’s driving Hunt, now 77, to get more involved, according to fellow Democrats who’ve seen him on the campaign trail.
“He is really upset with what’s happening and he’s working as hard as I’ve ever seen him work — almost as hard as when he was on the ballot himself,” said Gary Pearce, a longtime Democratic consultant, former Hunt adviser and biographer.
Pearce hosted an event for House candidate Kim Hanchette. Having Hunt speak for her gave Hanchette credibility, Pearce said. Earlier this week, Hunt stumped for former Sen. Stan White, D-Dare, who is looking to regain his old seat in November.
Hunt lost an epic U.S. Senate race to Republican Jesse Helms in 1984, but he rebounded with two more gubernatorial terms and has attained elder-statesman status in state politics since leaving the Executive Mansion.
“You don’t want to call him an icon, but he is,” said House Minority Leader Larry Hall, D-Durham, who’s had Hunt in attendance for three events.
Attempts over the past two weeks to interview Hunt about his activities were unsuccessful. An email and other messages seeking comment went unanswered. A message left on a phone listed for Hunt wasn’t immediately returned Thursday.
Hunt told The Charlotte Observer in February he was involved in raising money for legislative candidates but declined to elaborate.
“There are business and civic leaders deeply concerned about education . and jobs,” Hunt said a state Democratic Party dinner. “They’re very concerned about what’s happened to our teachers.”
As he did in the late 1990s during his final term, Hunt earlier this year supported an effort to raise teacher pay. He advocates boosting it to the national average in the next four years.
Republican legislators and Gov. Pat McCrory took a different route, approving average pay raises of 7 percent, with early-career teachers receiving the largest races as a way to promote their retention. Some more experienced teachers, however, got increases of 3 percent and less.
That wasn’t good enough, Hunt wrote in a column printed in newspapers this month. Hunt put most of the blame for current education troubles upon Republicans, while acknowledging that both parties should take some responsibility for recent setbacks, and preaching for bipartisanship in 2015.
“The current state leadership continues to keep our public schools on a bare subsistence diet and makes education policies that are an affront to teachers, especially experienced ones,” he wrote.
Hunt, who’s lived most of his life in Wilson County, was a campaign surrogate for President Barack Obama in 2012, visiting North Carolina homes in a “middle class listening tour” made for local media. Hunt retired from the Womble Carlyle law firm at end of 2012. He remains involved the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University and an education institute bearing his name.