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Local progressives weigh in

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Inclusive savvy
The Rev. Carrie Bolton
I voted for Gov. Jim Hunt the first time he ran. I was 18, and felt very good about it.

Central to the work I've done in Chatham County are my efforts to provide services for children ranging in age from 2 to 18. I have a child care center and a summer youth camp. The kind of vision and funds that have been appropriated under Gov. Hunt's administration have been critical to my being able to do the things I've done and continue to do. The Support Our Students program and Smart Start funds that have come to Chatham County by way of the Partnership for Children have provided the added [leverage] for helping children--particularly children who are underprivileged ... there is just no way we could have functioned without those funds.

Jim Hunt should be known as a governor who cared very passionately about the needs of children. A governor who translated that passion legislatively ... so that the impact is actually being felt in areas that are critical--like rural Chatham County.

Gov. Hunt, in some many, many ways, is a politician in the true sense of the word. But I think the wonderful thing about him is that his political savvy has not just benefited some groups and left out others. I think all of us--the poorest to the most well-off, the most humble to the most aristocratic--have felt the impact of his sensitivity. I appreciate that about him.

The Rev. Carrie Bolton is chair of Democracy South and a Chatham County activist.


Friend of public health
Adam Goldstein
Most of us will remember Hunt as a true advocate for children, whether it was in education or health care. ... Look at the programs he fought vigorously for, such as the expansion of Smart Start: This program would have as big an impact on health as it would on behavior development for the kids. Hunt appointed a pediatrician as the director of the health department, and [fought] one of the greatest health threats to kids--their addiction to tobacco products. He was the first governor ever to speak out forcefully against kids smoking, and he backed it up with concrete policy actions.

[In general], I think he's made a political transition in terms of his understanding of the health issues around tobacco. I mean, this is a governor who did his master's paper on tobacco farming, who comes from a tobacco background. I think as far as children go, he's moved where he could move to given, perhaps, his own institutional tobacco background. Perhaps he's paved the way for the next administration to take some bolder steps.

I think finally that, at a time when he could have easily backed off during the twilight of his administration, Hunt continued to push for improvement of the public health infrastructure for kids, coming up with creative ways to leverage public as well as private resources. I think all of those things will put him down as a very great friend for public health."

Dr. Adam Goldstein is a professor of internal medicine at UNC-Chapel Hill and a health care advocate


Choosing to kill
Steve Schewel
The lawyers and preachers and family members who trooped into Jim Hunt's office seeking clemency before every execution mostly came out with a glint of hope in their eyes. Hunt listened closely and made sympathetic noises before he killed.

In the very last days before the election of 1984, his epic U.S. Senate battle with Jesse Helms, Hunt let Velma Barfield die--the second execution under his administration since the reinstatement of the death penalty a few years before. Barfield was a murderer who had turned her life around, who had become a grandmotherly counselor to younger prisoners and a beloved force for good inside Womens Prison. Here was a perfect case for clemency, for mercy, but with the eyes of the world watching and his own eyes on the election polls, he killed. He waited until the last possible minute. Helms' relentless television spots pounded in his ears: "Where do you stand, Jim?" He had to choose, and he killed.

He did it over and over, allowing 15 executions to go forward as North Carolina's death-row population swelled to 214 inmates. He always adamantly supported the state's death penalty law despite overwhelming evidence that it is unfairly applied, that people who kill white victims are much more likely to get the death penalty than people who kill black victims, that murder in some counties gets the death penalty while murder in other counties gets life in prison, that we execute the mentally retarded, that we execute people whose trial attorneys give them demonstrably terrible representation, that the rest of the world's democracies look with shock and disdain at our state-sanctioned killing, that all over this country we are finding more and more innocent people on death row--people proven innocent through DNA testing or other means. None of this moved Jim Hunt. That is his legacy.

Until recently. Two weeks ago, Hunt granted clemency to Marcus Carter because he believed Carter may not have received a fair trial. It was Hunt's second grant of clemency, and both of them have been within the past year, his last year in office. Cynics credit Hunt's famous political instincts for the change: He wants a kinder image if he goes to Washington in a presidential administration, or he's read the polls that now say a majority of North Carolinians favor a death penalty moratorium. Others give him credit for opening himself up to the simple justice issues involved in the clemency cases, perhaps under the influence of the same truths that have given the entire nation increasing doubts about the fairness of the death penalty. Perhaps, then, he has left Mike Easley with a new legacy--the legacy of a governor who executed without mercy but who finally acknowledged his honest doubts and acted upon them.

Steve Schewel is the founding publisher of The Independent and currently serves as president.


Justice denied
Gary Grant
On environmental issues, I'd have to give Hunt a failing grade. He has been governor for 16 years, and in that time the hog industry has flourished. I don't see social justice [being achieved] by sending pollution into rural communities and communities of color, or sending industries that are not really bringing decent jobs that will lift the area.

When we first started, back in the early '90s, we tried to get meetings with him and we couldn't. It was at that point that we had to take to the streets. Because we were not political, Hunt didn't see us as having any political clout.

Appointing some black people to some positions does not address social justice and social change.

There's a segment of the population that's only thought about when it's time for election, otherwise we pay them no visits. Ordinary people do not rank because they don't have thousands of dollars to do fundraisers for you. I would hate to judge Gov. Hunt on that--I would just say that he's caught up in this country's political arena--and certainly it's an unjust arena.

Gary Grant is head of Concerned Citizens of Tillery.


No help on hogs
Karen Priest
We've been meeting for about eight years, and we've been begging and pleading with the governor all this time for relief for the citizens who live next to these atrocities [hog farms], and he's not been helpful. Except when it's gotten to the point where he could not ignore it anymore, like the Oceanview Farms spill, when something had to be done. We'd been calling for a moratorium for a long time before he ever decided it was OK to do it, and we think he got the OK from the industry before he came out and said it was OK.

To me, he's leaving a horrible environmental legacy. We've got cities living and breathing hog waste. My children have grown up knowing nothing else but hog waste. I've got 7,300 finishing hogs behind my house, about 3,000 feet away, and I've got 6,000 finishing hogs one mile west of my home. It's not a pleasant experience. And the governor's been no help to us, he won't even meet with us. I'm just glad to see him leaving.

Karen Priest is a member of the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry. Priest lives in Elizabethtown, Bladen County, home of the world's biggest hog finishing plant.


Beholden to the polls
Chris Fitzsimon
The first thing history will say is that [Hunt] is an extraordinary politician, to be elected four times in a fairly fickle political state, and he certainly changed as he perceived that the times did. I would say his legacy probably is as a New Democrat, a conservative Democrat. He was moving to the right before it was in vogue.

He also will be remembered for being tenaciously focused on his priorities to the exclusion of other things. Some of those priorities were good--children and education--but it was sad that he couldn't use those political skills to help more people who needed help, not just children.

I think of him getting labor support generally because the people who were running against him were even less friendly, if that's possible. He clearly was a corporate governor--he had those instincts, and then eight years as a corporate lobbyist cemented them in his mind.

He thinks the only answer to poverty and inequality in North Carolina is to just keep creating jobs, no matter what the cost. ... He was unwilling to sacrifice his popularity, and use his political skills, to take chances on things--like universal health care, like labor laws, like being responsible about criminal justice issues. For a long time, he totally ignored AIDS funding, he's never said much about gay and lesbian issues--and I don't expect him to do all of those things, but a man with that popularity and political skill certainly could have led the state in a more progressive direction if he was willing to sacrifice some of it.

At times, it appeared he was as beholden to the consultants and the polls as he was to his inner convictions.

He talked a lot about race, [and] I think he has done very little in that regard. You can appoint a few cabinet secretaries and make some speeches, but ultimately [he hasn't] been as outspoken as I would have liked. There's no question that [black college campuses] have been neglected, and continue to be neglected. AIDS, now, is a largely poor, African-American disease. Economic development--the African-American communities need more than just somebody coming in and paying low wages. I don't think there have been any initiatives in those directions.

It's amazing how he's managed to be perceived outside North Carolina as much more progressive than he actually is. As a weird piece of evidence, The Village Voice recently had a piece about potential people in Bush's cabinet, and they put Jim Hunt in there because he's been so successful and such a 'breath of progressive fresh air in North Carolina.' It was just bizarre.

Chris Fitzsimon is director of The Common Sense Foundation, a progressive think tank in Raleigh


Could have done better for women
Betty Ann Knudson
He's been a better governor for women than anyone else has been [laughs].

He's appointed a lot of women to a lot of different positions. However, the numbers don't tell the whole tale, because you can tell how powerful the board or commission is by the few number of women who serve on it. A board is not a board is a board.

He was a strong supporter of the [Equal Rights Amendment]. And yet, that was the only issue he pushed in his first term with the legislature that did not pass. There was some mismanagement on the part of the person whom Jim Hunt appointed to be his legislative lobbyist. And when it finally came down to it, I think that he didn't really want to bargain enough to really get it. He could have gotten it. He got everything else he wanted.

He cold have done better. He did good, but he could have done better.

The one thing that really sticks in my craw is the ERA. That meant more than everything else put together.

Betty Ann Knudson is a former Wake County Commissioner chair and an early ERA proponent.


Miles to go on kids
Paula Wolf
Jim Hunt has earned the title of "The Children's Governor" because he has put children at the forefront of his administration like no other governor in the United States. As a result of his focus, we have the nationally acclaimed early childhood initiative, Smart Start, in every county in the state.

Teacher salaries have reached the national average, and N.C. Health Choice, the children's health insurance program, is one of the 10 most successful programs of its kind in the nation.

However, the achievement of these important and significant initiatives doesn't mean we have done all that needs to be done for North Carolina's youth. During the Hunt Administration, reported and substantiated cases of child abuse, neglect and maltreatment have reached epidemic proportions. Mental health services for children in the public schools, in foster care, and in the juvenile justice system are sorely inadequate, if available at all. And while North Carolina strives to increase student performance and accountability, it is unacceptable to allow more than half of our state's African-American children to fall into the so-called Minority Achievement Gap.

[We] had a true partner in Gov. Hunt on those issues that were a priority for him and his administration. His method of intense focus on a limited number of issues in order to get them accomplished is well documented and served him--and our children--well. But, we've miles to go before we sleep.

Paula A. Wolf is chief lobbyist for the Covenant with North Carolina's Children and Senior Fellow, N.C. Child Advocacy Institute.


Education: The bottom line
John Gilbert
Education is his legacy, and it's a rich legacy. Smart Start reflects Hunt's recognition that early childhood is the place where we badly needed to put a lot of focus. There's a broad consensus among educators that that is the crucial area--that if we don't address the problems of children coming to school not ready to learn, we greatly limit what the schools can do for them. The universities have always had important constituencies; they could go to get more funds, but there never has been much of a constituency for early childhood education. Hunt took the lead on it, and in fact met a good deal of resistance in the legislature. And he has prevailed.

The commitment to get teachers pay up to the national average--in the long run, that may be the most important thing he has done. Unless we are willing to pay teachers more, we really are not serious about improving education. He's done that.

And the leadership he's given nationally to board certification of teachers, I think that's going to pay dividends in the future. NC has led every other state right from the beginning. And that is all Hunt.

Finally, the ABCs--the idea of challenging people at the school and classroom level people to meet specific standards and reward progress toward those standards is a significant initiative by Hunt. I think the program is going to need to be improved. For instance, at the high school level, they don't have the problems with the tests worked out yet. And you can overtest, certainly. But it's the right direction. You've got to test to measure performance--that's the bottom line.

And this is part of his legacy, too: In the recent gubernatorial campaign, you didn't hear either the Republican candidate or, certainly , the Democratic candidate, challenging the direction that Hunt has laid down for education. The challenge that we should lead the nation by 2010 is obviously a very ambitious goal. And whether we actually can reach it or not, it's a very important goal to have ... because it puts the emphasis where it should be put--on helping those who are not making it to make it. So it's terribly important to have that goal, and set the direction, and see whether you're gaining on it.

John Gilbert, a political science professor at N.C. State University, is former chair of the Wake County Board of Education.


Lifting teachers
John Wilson
A lot of people try to label themselves as education governor, education president--he practiced it, and particularly for the last eight years. Quite frankly, the first eight and the final eight were night and day in terms of the relationship with teachers. The first eight years, because he had student taught, he thought he knew everything about education, and he made decisions without the involvement of teachers. The steps on the [teachers'] salary scale were frozen. It would generate marches on the Governor's mansion about every year, and there was a very hostile relationship. Ironically, every time he ran for office, he was by far the best of the lot anyway--you know, like Jesse Helms! So we always endorsed him.

But when he lost that race to Helms, he took a position with the new National Board of Professional Teaching Standards--the certification board--and that board [included] excellent teachers from across the nation. He had an opportunity to really talk to teachers, and I think that it just hit him how much teachers knew about what needed to occur to change the way we educate children and the way we treat teachers. And when he came back for the second eight, it was just a different Jim Hunt, and it was very clear that he wanted to lift the profession. We created a partnership. When teachers are involved--you know, we're the ones who have to implement things--it was just very different how much we were able to accomplish.

We're a state that has the most improvement in student achievement. As the national board has started doing research about the effectiveness of teachers who are nationally board-certified, it's a substantial difference. And we have more board-certified teachers than any other state--we compensate teachers for achieving that, pay their fees, and make it easy for them to take on a very difficult process. We're now a model for other states.

I think when a governor can use the bully pulpit to inspire and motivate school employees, teachers and the general public, that's a very powerful tool to have. And this governor is a master at the bully pulpit. And he's a master at organizing. If you can get him to support your issue, you're taking it home--that's just the way he operates, and I believe he will continue to carry influence for years to come just because of the strength of his political skills.

John Wilson, longtime executive director of the N.C. Association of Educators, became head of the National Education Association a month ago.


Disabled off the radar
Joy Weeber
The really progressive legislation, like the handicapped building code, happened before [Hunt's first term].We were never on Jim Hunt's radar. He never came to the disability community. The progressive things he did do happened because strong civil rights advocates went to him--people like Ron Mace and Lockhart Follin-Mace, who viewed disability as a civil rights issue. But Lockhart died in 1990 and Ron was struggling physically from that point on. Without their advocacy since then, the state's response to disability has been grounded in the old medical charity model, which is that individuals have individual problems, and we need to help them, but we don't attempt to change our systems so that they facilitate everyone's development.

Our human services agencies are still functioning with outdated definitions of what constitutes disability. It shows up in the field of education. We have North Carolinians with disabilities who struggle to get through high school, and then encounter community colleges and universities that have not been required by state leadership to bring themselves into compliance with the ADA--the Americans With Disabilities Act--or with the rehab act of 1974. The system continues to function as if we have 'medical' problem--therefore, it doesn't have to fully educate these people, doesn't have to prepare universities for us to come to school and fully prepare to enter the workplace and earn our own living. So the medical model consigns people to an ever-dependent state [while] it perpetuates itself. ...

It also shows up in the way the Governor's Advisory Council of Persons With Disabilities functions. It says, we'll respond to individual problems. Well, the whole purpose of GACPD is to advocate for changing the system so that individuals are not forced to struggle for help one by one. The state needs to shift its focus from looking at people with disabilities as simply recipients of services, and view them as another diverse population in the state that has unique needs.

Joy Weeber is an advocate for disabled persons and heads the Ron Mace Center for Disability Community Development. EndBlock

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