Ned Cline: Politics and woodpiles

Published 11:10 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2017

By Ned Cline

Special to the Sailsbury Post

RALEIGH — A memorable and wholesome political event occurred in downtown Raleigh in early January. It was memorable because the purpose was to commemorate what became a landmark change in North Carolina politics. And it was wholesome because in today’s attack-dog electoral climate, positive politics of reasonableness and respect are seldom ever discussed.

The occasion was an informal luncheon gathering to celebrate the Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles gubernatorial campaign of 1972 — 45 years ago. Democrat Bowles lost that campaign to James Holshouser Jr. who became the first Republican to be elected governor in this state in 75 years.

The significance of the Jan. 10 Raleigh event was the fact that the Bowles campaign staff, which held the event, has remained cohesive and pretty much together for almost 50 years. That clearly shows the depth and breath of their care and concern for their candidate and what he represented.

Historically, when political candidates win, campaign staffs and hangers on flock to become part of the continuing effort, seeking credit. Conversely, when candidates lose, campaign staffs disperse, seek to hide from their perceived mistakes and are soon forgotten.

Not so with the Bowles staff. They still feel confidant after more than four decades that their candidate was the best choice, could and would have been good for the state, and that his values and ideas still have merit.

Bowles was a successful Greensboro businessman known for his progressive ideas on education and economic growth. Early in that campaign against a little-known mountain lawyer named Holshouser, Bowles was the perceived sure winner. Time and presidential candidates help change all that, leading to what became a turning point in North Carolina politics.

The real political turmoil in that gubernatorial campaign was actually in the Democratic primary where Bowles and opponent Lt. Gov. Pat Taylor engaged in a tangle of wills. Bowles won that battle, but it may well have cost him the war because Democrats never healed their party wounds. Also working against Democrats that year was the fact that Republicans had Richard Nixon at the top of their presidential ticket and Democrats had George McGovern who was about as popular as a case of poison ivy.

What was unusual in the Bowles-Holshouser campaign was that neither side threw hollow slogans nor wallowed in the muck of what today is called alternative facts. The two candidates stuck to real facts. They agreed on many things, just taking different approaches to similar solutions. On other topics and issues, they disagreed but spent their time explaining their differences, not demeaning their opponent.

It was a wholesome and worthy way to campaign because both candidates were good and decent individuals who both practiced as well as preached tolerance and respect. That clearly counted with the Bowles staff.

That theme was evident in the reunion conversations among Bowles loyalists. Their words were praise for their guy, not criticism of the opposition. Bowles often spoke in his campaign of “adding to the community woodpile,” his way of saying candidates and others needed to work to help people with genuine needs. That phrase was often repeated at the gathering because it is still relevant.

Bowles carried out his “woodpile” philosophy throughout his remaining years. He directed projects large and small in his later life before his death in 1986. Two of his notable projects were creation of an alcohol research center at UNC and his initial effort to build the Dean Smith Center on the UNC campus.

In today’s political climate, too many candidates only want to chop down trees and burn the timber rather than use it to add to the woodpiles for present and future needs.

Hargrove “Skipper” Bowles left a worthy legacy. His staff remembers. It would be heartening if others did, too.

Ned Cline is a former editor of the News & Record. He was a rookie reporter in 1972 during the Bowles-Holshouser campaign.