WRAL’s documentary on Jim Hunt brings back fond, and not so fond, memories. It implicitly brings up the dramatically different philosophy that marks North Carolina’s leadership today. It shows the toll that politics can take on all involved, especially families. And it tells a largely untold story about one key to Hunt’s success, Carolyn Hunt.
That’s a pretty good hour’s work, or 48 minutes. It’s a credit to producer Clay Johnson. You can watch it online here.
My first thought: Lord, we were young then. Most of the interviews were done soon after Hunt left office in January 2001. Some of those interviewed are no longer living: Joe Grimsley, Ben Ruffin, Jack Hawke, Governor Jim Holshouser.
There’s a rare interview with Bert Bennett, Hunt’s political mentor. Bert recalled the “gleam in his eye” that Hunt had during Terry Sanford’s 1960 campaign, which Bert managed. “You could see that he would like to someday maybe be in Sanford’s shoes, be Governor.”
Bert, always pithy, summed up Hunt’s energy, ebullience and sheer enjoyment in being Governor: “I think he hated to go to bed.”
Watching it, I swelled up with pride in being part of what Hunt did. It was very different from what the state’s leaders are doing today. Hunt believed that government could make a difference in people’s lives. Today’s Republicans are wedded to the proposition that government can’t and shouldn’t do anything.
See if you agree after you hear narrator David Crabtree go through what Hunt pushed government to do: statewide kindergartens, Smart Start, higher teacher pay, board certification for teachers, the Basic Education Plan, the School of Science and Mathematics, recruiting high-tech businesses, transportation bond issues, equal opportunities for women and minorities, on and on.
The program doesn’t minimize defeats (1984), disappointments and dumb mistakes. They’re part of the story, too.
Clay’s interviews with Carolyn and their four children give you a glimpse of how important she was, even though she remained publicly reticent. You can also see in their faces and sense in their words how tough it all was – losing in 1984, being in the public eye and feeling the pressures of office.
An interview with Jim Hunt’s also-reticent brother Robert shows the impact that the boys’ parents had on them.
Of course, I’m no objective viewer. If you like Hunt’s politics, you’ll like the program. If you don’t, you probably won’t.
One thing came through clearly – again, in interviews from 15 years ago, when battle scars were still fresh: Hunt just drove Republicans crazy.
Probably still does.