Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The book on Easley: Whew!

The state has just published a new edition of “The Governors of North Carolina,” a 211-page paperback book that features biographic sketches of the 99 North Carolinians who have served as governors since Ralph Lane in 1585-86. It’s edited by Michael Hill, a state historian, and sells for $29.35 (including tax and shipping). You can arrange for a copy by contacting francis.kunstling@ncmail.net or calling the N.C. Division of Archives and History at (919) 733-7442.
For the most part it’s an interesting read, catching up with those who served the state during its many challenging periods. Some of the writing is pretty revelatory. The entry on Gov. R. Gregg Cherry 1945-49) of Gastonia – so called “Grog” Cherry by detractors and some admirers as well – includes this note: “Personally, Gregg Cherry was roughhewn, plainspoken, and at times profane, with a fondness for whiskey and chewing tobacco.”
The entry on Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock (1901-05) was equally candid. Among other things, it noted that Aycock distrusted Republicans of the era and “endorsed the idea that politics should be reserved for the white race.”
And the Depression-era Gov. J.C.B. Ehringhaus (1933-37) was so “cautious,” the book noted, that at the height of the Depression he declined to provide state matching support for the Emergency Relief Administration “and delayed implementation of provisions of the Social Security Act, passed in 1935, until 1937.”
He also opposed the state’s taking part in the New Deal’s tobacco support program and spoke in opposition for 90 minutes at a Raleigh football stadium. Among other things, he told the crowd, he’d gotten “a bellyfull of public office.”
Alas, the entry on the state’s current governor, did not read with the same kind of raw-material, bark-still-on candor. Gov. Michael Francis Easley’s entry read more like a public relations pamphlet. (Indeed, the book's introduction notes, Easley's entry was written after consultation with his press office.) Among other things, it referred to “[T]he more than $400 million in annual funds generated by the new lottery” for schools – except the lottery hasn’t generated that kind of money yet.
It also noted he “successfully led North Carolina through its transition to become a major competitor in the new global economy..... Easley provided the tools need to attract successful new industry and to grow existing businesses. These tools will help secure a strong, healthy economy for north Carolina years into the future.”
Whew! Even Easley’s admirers will find that spread on a little thick. Perhaps state officials should wait until governors have left office before they try to assess their gubernatorial terms.

8 comments:

David McKnight said...

Jack--

"The Iron Major," Gastonia's Gov. R. Gregg Cherry, may have been seen as "roughhewn" by some, but at least one distinguished visitor to North Carolina in 1948 found Gov. Cherry to be a true practitioner of Southern charm and political savoir-faire.

Consider this introduction to President Harry Truman's speech to a Democratic gathering at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh on October 19, 1948:

"Governor Cherry, distinguished Democrats, and fellow Democrats of North Carolina:

"I can't tell you how very much I appreciate the most cordial welcome I have received in the capital city of this great State today. Your Governor has been exceedingly kind and cordial to me, and to my family.

"The Governor took us to the Governor's Mansion for (a) luncheon, and I want to say to you that it was some luncheon. Outside of Missouri, I never saw another one like it."

Of course, both Gov. Gregg Cherry's administration here in North Carolina and the Truman administration nationally became known for progressive stands and commitments in the area of improved health care services and medical facilities. If the dramatic improvement in hospital and other medical facilities during Cherry's term in office had been covered by the press of that era with today's outlook on public issues, Gastonia's occupant of the Governor's Mansion might well have become known as "the health care governor" just as other N.C. chief executives became known as "the good roads governor" or "the education governor."

Even today, such Democratic presidential candidates as Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut are still pointing to the Truman national health insurance plan of the 1940s as a still-relevant foundation for improving health care services and insurance in this country in the 21st Century, and the gains in medical and health care services in North Carolina during Gov. Gregg Cherry's administration have been well-documented in a number of authoritative accounts.

But Jack, since you are equally at home on the bass fiddle as well as in the official governmental circles of Raleigh, maybe you can answer this gubernatorial mystery:
What tune was it that Gov. William B. Umstead reportedly played on his favorite harmonica at his own inaugural festivities in January 1953?

Whatever tune it was, surely this is convincing proof that Gov. Jim Martin, a former member of the Charlotte Symphony, was not the only North Carolina governor who could toot his own horn.

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