Phil Kirk: Broyhill believed in serving his constituents

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

Sen. Jim Broyhill died Feb. 18 at age 95 and his memorial service was held on Feb. 28.

Then-Congressman Jim Broyhill and later Senator Jim Broyhill visited Rowan County many times in the ’60s when he represented our county in the U.S. Congress. He brought many important people to Rowan County, including Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Bob Dole, Strom Thurmond and many others.

My political career and 60-year friendship with Jim and Louise Broyhill began in an unusual way. He was involved in a Republican primary in 1962 with Les Burdick, Rowan GOP chairman, for the nomination to face incumbent Congressman Hugh Alexander. I was president of the East Rowan Teen Age Republicans and was working closely with party chairman Burdick so I was loyal to him and supported him in the primary. I had never met Senator Broyhill at the time.

Senator Broyhill beat Burdick in a landslide, receiving more than 80 percent of the vote. The older Republicans in Rowan County were bitter about the outcome and many declined to support the Broyhill candidacy. I called the Broyhill campaign office a few days after the primary and promised that the Teen Age Republicans would campaign door-to-door for him in Rowan County. We knocked on more than 5,000 doors and left campaign brochures and Broyhill sugar scoops! He won the election by 1,200 votes.

Mary Cridlebaugh, my history teacher at East Rowan who now lives in Thomasville, reminded me recently that the newly elected Jim Broyhill visited our history class the day after his upset victory in November, 1962. She wrote, “I no longer remember what he said, but I do remember being impressed that he had come from Lenoir and probably had no sleep since learning the results of the election. He had to have been pretty tired.”

That is a good example of Senator Broyhill’s work ethic and also keeping his promise that if he won, he would be at East Rowan High the next day.

Democrats in the North Carolina General Assembly tried to defeat our state’s only Republican Congressman Charles R. Jonas in 1962 by putting several of his Republican-leaning counties in Alexander’s district and adding Democratic strongholds to Jonas’s district. Our state ended up with two Republicans, Jonas and Broyhill, in Congress. After having Senator Broyhill as our Congressman for three terms, the Democrats tried again with their partisan gerrymandering in an effort to defeat him. What happened? The voters rebelled again and elected two more Republican Congressmen, Dr. Earl Ruth of Salisbury and Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell of Davidson County!

The Broyhills spent a lot of time in Rowan County, campaigning at the county fair, riding in the Faith Fourth of July parade, visiting every nook and cranny in search of votes, and they made many life-long friends here. Catawba College gave Senator Broyhill an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree and he was very proud of that. He carried Rowan County by a 3-1 margin before the Democrats removed Rowan County from his district. Bob Andrew of Faith was on the Broyhill team from the very beginning and served as his chairman in Rowan County. He was nicknamed the “Candy Man” because he owned a wholesale candy company.

Senator Broyhill, who was in the House at the time, convinced me to come to Capitol Hill to serve as his chief of staff and I did so from 1977-84 between serving similar roles with former Governors Jim Holshouser and Jim Martin. That was a great experience and resulted in an even closer friendship with the Broyhill family.

Senator Broyhill strongly believed in the importance of constituent service. He and his staff worked hard to get social security disability and veteran’s benefits for those who deserved them. He often met one-on-one with new Republican members of Congress to emphasize the importance of quality constituent service. Congressman Richard Hudson, who represented Rowan County at one point, told me that Broyhill emphasized this important aspect of being a congressman in an early session with him.

While he never served in the majority in the House, his work ethic and ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans made him a successful member of Congress.  He worked with presidents of both parties. As the Republican leader (called the ranking member) of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he worked closely with President Ronald Reagan to de-regulate a number of industries, including telecommunications, which allowed cable TV to flourish. The Reagan/Broyhill team was instrumental in the formation of the Department of Energy.

Senator Broyhill worked tirelessly to get rid of unnecessary, costly regulations throughout the federal government.

Often when I introduced Broyhill to groups over the years, I asked people what words came to mind when they heard the name “Senator Broyhill”? Responses included honest, ethical, sincere, intelligent, loyal, hard working, dedicated, compassionate. I knew that I would never be embarrassed nor disappointed to say that I was a friend of Jim Broyhill.

Senator Broyhill used to end many of his speeches with this comment. “There are three ingredients for a successful campaign (and I would add for many other areas of life). No. 1 is hard work.  No. 2 is hard work. And  No. 3 is hard work.”

I can think of no better way for us to honor the memory of Senator James Thomas Broyhill than to work hard for the good of our state, nation and world.

Phil Kirk, a native of Rowan County and former teacher, lives in Raleigh.