1950sGrows up on a tobacco and dairy farm in Rock Ridge, Wilson County. High school: state president, Future Farmers of America; class president and star quarterback.
Serves unprecedented two terms as president of student body at N.C. State University; student teacher in Cary; writes master's paper at N.C. State on tobacco farming. Meets Carolyn Leonard, from Iowa, at a national Grange meeting. Hitchhikes to Iowa to see her and carries a switchblade, just in case. Marries Leonard.
1960sServes on the Democratic National Committee staff for one year; spends two years in Nepal with the Ford Foundation. Has four children: Rebecca, Baxter, Rachel, Elizabeth. Receives law degree from UNC-Chapel Hill. Elected state president of Young Democrats.
Named by Gov. Bob Scott to chair committee revising state Democratic party rules to open the party to women and minorities.
1972Republican Jim Holshauser is elected governor in Nixon-GOP sweep; Hunt, elected lieutenant governor, instantly becomes highest-ranking Democrat in state government at age 34.
"One of the youngest modernizer Democrats, who linked the state's future economic development to the gradual elimination of Jim Crow institutions," says Paul Luebke. "At the same time, he shared traditionalists' values regarding social issues other than race. For example, he personally opposed abortion and was a teetotaler."
1976Wins four-way Democratic primary for governor with 57 percent of the vote, beats GOP opponent 2-to-1 as Jimmy Carter wins the presidency. Hunt is pro-civil rights and pro-Equal Rights Amendment, but campaign commercials feature prison cells, "tough on crime" message.
Hunt's platform: Make North Carolina a friend of business; raise industrial wages, which are 50th in the country; improve education; fight crime. His inaugural speech, six minutes long, is about the limits of government: "The changes we need must come in our own hearts and in the way we act as a people," he says, "not from some new 'manipulation' of government."
1977Pushes through constitutional amendment letting governors serve two consecutive terms.
Legislative wins: Teachers aides in grades one through three to help with reading; more student testing; $300 million highway bond issue and $215 million clean water bond issue; new Department of Commerce and economic development board of business leaders; new Department of Crime Control, tougher criminal penalties and more prison construction.
Losses: the Equal Rights Amendment is never ratified by the state; Hunt drops plan for labor education and research center in UNC system in the face of business opposition. Thereafter, says Luebke, "he de-emphasized his advocacy of higher worker wages, seeking to avoid the label of pro-labor politician."
Hunt and wife Carolyn volunteer one morning a week as tutors in a Raleigh elementary school--which they continue to this day.
1978Declines to pardon the "Wilmington 10," nine blacks and a white woman convicted nine years earlier of arson during civil rights protests. When national publicity exposes the flimsiness of the evidence against them, Hunt reduces their sentences so they can be paroled.
1980Reelected governor with 62 percent of the vote despite Reagan victory, the first two-termer in state history. Hunt retains business support for Democrats in North Carolina, running against the Republican tide in the South.
Second-term initiatives: a new Basic Education Plan, the N.C. School of Science and Math in Durham, and the Microelectronics Center of North Carolina, now MCNC.
Hunt backs a gas-tax increase for road construction over increases in corporate and personal income taxes.
It's an example of his "economic conservatism," Luebke says. "One area where modernizers, traditionalists and 'blend' candidates [like Hunt] shared common ground was in their antipathy to progressive taxation ... their unwillingness to place any additional tax burden on the wealthy and big business."
1984Runs against Jesse Helms for U.S. Senate. As bitter race nears its finish, Hunt refuses to commute the death sentence of Velma Barfield, who is executed.
Loses to Helms, who overcomes early Hunt lead behind Reagan landslide. Helms says Hunt's like a windshield wiper, going back and forth on every issue. "Where do you stand, Jim?" sticks in voters' minds.
The Independent, in business for a year, endorses Hunt over Helms, a "virulent racist" and dangerous right-winger: "The Independent has been a frequent critic of Gov. Jim Hunt, a fundamentally decent man who has stood bravely for racial justice and little else. Hunt is a conventional, conservative politician who really does care about quality education and environmental protection. In this case, that's plenty good enough."
1985-91Becomes partner in a corporate law firm, lobbies successfully in the General Assembly to get a tax break for RJR Nabisco's (R.J. Reynolds) planned cookie factory in Garner. The factory's never built, but the $60 million a year loophole in the corporate income tax remains on the books.
Other Hunt clients: Martin Marietta, lobbying in support of a $9 billion highway construction bill and its "Buy America" provision (barring foreign rock); ThermalKEM Inc., which won a contract from the state for a hazardous-waste incinerator. Gearing up for a comeback, Hunt says: "My law firm's relationship with ThermalKEM, or any other client, will not have any influence on the decisions I make as governor." But Hunt also tells N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry that his law practice has made him understand better the needs of corporations.
1990Turns away from a rematch with Helms, who wins narrowly over former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt by playing a late race card, the infamous "white hands" commercial, against his black opponent. Hunt stays out of the Gantt campaign, and signals he'll run for governor in '92. His chief Democratic opponent, Attorney General Lacey Thornburgh, says he's more conservative than Hunt, leaving progressives without a candidate.
1992Wins Democratic gubernatorial primary easily. Against Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Gardner, Hunt's fall campaign is all about prison cells and "boot camps" for juvenile offenders. "It seems Hunt is trying to out-macho his opponent," says The Independent 's Barry Yeoman. "Hunt calls his program 'bold' and 'new'--but he should know that crime is a complex problem that requires more than shallow solutions."
Still, The Independent again endorses Hunt: "Hunt's faults are hard to ignore. As governor, he too often listened to his own big-money campaign contributors. His decision to allow the state to execute Velma Barfield ... shows a weakness in character and judgment. And he is slow to champion certain reforms, such as an overhaul of the state's Department of Transportation." But while "inconsistent" on labor and environmental issues, we said, Hunt was "infinitely preferable" to right-winger Gardner.
Hunt wins with 53 percent of the vote to Gardner's 43 percent.
1993Taking a page from Reagan's book, Hunt installs a short list of program initiatives in his outer office and says he'll focus on them exclusively. Top priority: "Smart Start" partnership to fund child daycare and health programs. It's set up as a nonprofit organization with county chapters, allowing state funds to support church-based programs along with public ones.
Smart Start is Hunt's signature program this time around--over Republican opposition, the General Assembly steadily expands it to all 100 counties and $250 million annually in state funding.
1994Hunt calls a special "crime session" of the legislature, "noteworthy for its punitive tone," Luebke says. Unveils Transportation 2001, which he calls a bold, new vision, but which The Independent says is more of the same old thing: "When it comes down to the important issue--money--Transportation 2001 still emphasizes highways over rails and buses."
After Republicans win Congress and the state House of Representatives in the November elections, Hunt calls for massive tax cuts totaling almost $500 million a year.
1995Says The Independent: "It's become difficult lately to distinguish the governor's rap from that of the GOP, so agreeable has Hunt become with the other camp's agenda." UNC-Chapel Hill political science professor Thad Beyle agrees: "This is the most conservative Hunt we've seen."
Hunt's tax cuts include repeal of the intangibles tax on the market value of individuals' stocks and bonds. Anticipating that the Clinton Administration will dismantle welfare, Hunt starts his own Work First program to trim the welfare rolls. Again, he calls on churches and volunteers to provide charity in the place of government aid.
Heavy rains collapse a big hog-waste cesspool at Oceanview Farms, causing a massive fish kill in Onslow County. The hog industry's clout in Raleigh, and Hunt's close ties with state Sen. Wendell Murphy, owner of mega-hog corporation Murphy Farms, are scandalous enough to win a Pulitzer Prize for The News & Observer when it lays them out. Hunt appoints a commission to study the problem.
1996As he campaigns for a fourth term, a poll says one in five voters think Hunt's a Republican. When his opponent, state Rep. Robin Hayes, comes out for repeal of the regressive sales tax on food, so does Hunt. Hunt also pushes through a program of corporate subsidies for business expansion, the William S. Lee Act, named for a Duke Power CEO.
Tobacco is hot. The Independent says Hunt has "stayed firmly planted in the soil of another era, defending the flower of Southern tobaccohood" against all evidence that it's a health danger and requires federal regulation.
Utterly discouraged by another Hunt vs. right-wing Republican campaign, we invent our own candidate, Jolene Strickland, and endorse her for governor: "While Hunt and Hayes were groveling for corporate donations, [Strickland] made her independent campaign a model for clean elections, refusing to accept any contribution over $100. Rather than stripping away poor folks' support systems, Strickland advocates slashes in 'corporate pork' ... would trim the state's insanely expensive highway program and call a halt to runaway prison construction."
Hunt wins with 56 percent of the vote. Though he could afford to help, Hunt mostly steers clear of Harvey Gantt's rematch with Helms, who again wins narrowly.
1997Hunt follows through on his campaign promise to push N.C. teachers' pay to the national average. Hunt's Excellent Schools Act includes extra pay for teachers achieving national board certification.
To satisfy business, Hunt crafts ABC plan, with end-of-grade testing for students, bonuses for teachers if their school tests well, threat of state takeover if it doesn't. Hunt appoints Republican Phil Kirk, president of N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry, to chair the State Board of Education.
Luebke calls Hunt's education program "masterful" for any would-be centrist politician: "Hunt crafted a coalition that forced most traditionalist Republicans ... to support a big-government spending program."
Hunt backs moratorium on new hog farms, but takes no action to clean up existing hog "lagoons." He is silent on campaign finance reform. And on Hunt's shift of federal funds from welfare for poor folks to Smart Start, which helps poor and middle-income kids, The Independent quotes Dan Gerlach of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center: "It's kind of elegant ... but it means there are much fewer resources there for poor people."
1998Two state Board of Transportation members resign over conflicts of interest. Newspapers focus on the cozy relationships between transportation officials, Hunt fundraisers and developers; Democracy South, a reform group, says Hunt got at least $650,000 in '92 and '96 campaigns from board members. Hunt fires top DOT officials and signs legislation revamping board.
Frequent ozone alerts prompt Hunt to talk up "smart growth" ideas to limit automobile pollution, but he resists federal moves to clean up coal-fired electric plants owned by CP&L and Duke Power. In court, federal EPA eventually prevails.
1999Hurricane Floyd devastates Eastern North Carolina. Hunt strips state reserves to pay for cleanup without a tax increase. Damage from flooding accelerates smart-growth initiatives; Hunt calls for the state to preserve 1 million acres of open space, but has little money left to back that up.
Hunt's Health Choice program, state insurance for low-income children, enrolls so many kids it maxes out available federal and state funds.
2000Lame-duck Hunt says public schools should be best in the nation by 2010; Democrat Mike Easley, who wins the gubernatorial election, agrees. Hunt expected to be secretary of education if Al Gore is elected president; if not, N.C. State said to be creating "First in America Foundation" for Hunt to lead.
N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a nonprofit group, summarizes Hunt's last two terms: State spending "mimicked" national trends, with spending on education, health and prisons up, other areas "neglected." Tax cuts signed by Hunt total $1.4 billion a year, putting state-local tax burden 38th out of 50 states.
Sources: Paul Luebke, Tar Heel Politics 2000, UNC Press; Addresses and Public Papers of James Baxter Hunt, Jr., N.C. Division of Archives and History; files of The Independent Weekly.