Political operator addresses Kiwanis

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At the July 15 meeting of the Roxboro Kiwanis Club at La Piazza restaurant in uptown Roxboro, Matt Davis, owner/operator of Tricia’s Espresso, was installed as the newest club member.

Phillip Allen introduced Phil Kirk, who addressed the club about the 10 governors he has known and with whom he has worked. Kirk has held leadership positions in government and business communities for decades and has delivered over 7,000 public speeches. In 1970, at age 24, he became the youngest person ever elected to the N.C. Senate. He later became chief of staff for Gov. James Holshouser, then for U.S. Representative Jim Broyhill, and later for Gov. Jim Martin.

Kirk recalled that Gov. Terry Sanford came to his high school in Rowan County. Kirk was president of the teen Republicans at the time. He observed that he objected to being told when to applaud, but did so anyway. The next governor was Dan Moore. Kirk noted that he knew more about the governor’s wife than Moore, although he was widely regarded as one of the most underrated governors.

Bob Scott had a great sense of humor. Kirk met Scott while serving as a 25-year-old state senator, and he was appointed to several boards and commissions by Scott, to which some Democrats objected. The governor responded by saying that “a Republican is needed on committees and he’s so young he won’t have an impact.” Mrs. Scott asked him to be on the state board of the Cancer Society and admitted that he was being sought because he would be the only Republican.

Jim Martin was the next governor. During the transition period before Martin took office, Scott visited the transition office regularly to give advice, which is unheard of today. Scott told Kirk that he would be tired every day when he went home, so he should take a diary and write something down that happened that day.

Jim Holshouser was elected following Martin. He was not expected to win, and took a second mortgage on his home to pay campaign expenses. He had to beat Jim Gardner in a primary and a runoff, and his general election opponent was Skipper Bowles. He was the last governor who could only run for one term. Holshouser was a UNC law graduate, but was polite when he went to college athletic events, even switching coat colors at halftime.

Jim Hunt was Lt. Governor when Holshouser was governor, and they worked well together during that time. Hunt realized that one term was not enough, but knew it would take a bipartisan campaign to pass a constitutional amendment. He recruited Kirk in that effort, along with Tom Lambeth. Hugh Morton from Grandfather Mountain was honorary chair.

Kirk recalled that Hunt is not known for his sense of humor. He got a call one afternoon on casual Friday, saying that Hunt wanted to see him. He felt bad about not having on a tie, and so was nervous. He apologized for this and blurted out to the governor, “I only wear a tie when I’m meeting with someone important.”

Kirk remembered that the Charlotte Rotary Club invited him to speak and Governors Martin and McCrory were present, since they are both honorary members of the club. He got to know Martin when he was a Congressman and Kirk was working for Broyhill. Martin was a tough boss because he was so bright. Rufus Edmisten went all over the state telling people not to vote for Martin because he was not born in North Carolina. This got under Martin’s skin, who accused Edmisten of “telling the truth for a change.”

Kirk observed that Edmisten made an anti-BBQ comment just before the election and said he hoped he never had to eat any more. The voters saw to it that he did not.

Kirk said that Mike Easley was difficult to figure. He did not seem to enjoy the ceremonial aspect of the job, although his wife appeared to like these tasks more than he. Before the lottery was approved, Easley told Kirk he wanted the state Chamber of Commerce to come out in favor of it. Kirk told him the Chamber members were split. He suggested instead legalizing prostitution, and Easley responded “we would need quality control.”

Beverly Purdue was first female governor and perhaps the best prepared because of her long background in state government. At her first Council of State meeting, she pledged not to say a word, which she did not. She did not run for re-election because polls showed she could not win. She was not popular because the economy was bad and she had to cut budgets. Also, Obama carried North Carolina when she was elected, but did not do so for his second term.

McCrory and Kirk are both Catawba College graduates and served together on its Board of Trustees. At a campaign event McCrory said he was honored to be asked to deliver the commencement address at Catawba and jokingly said that he thought that was an honor until he found that Kirk had also been asked, and is 10 years older than McCrory. He was not as effective as governor because the large Republican legislative majority could effectively ignore him. Kirk wryly noted that he offered to come out for or against McCrory, whichever would help him the most.

Roy Cooper brings a tremendous amount of experience to the Governor’s office. He is bright and squeaky clean. There was hope of bipartisanship upon his election. Kirk said that when Cooper was in the legislature, he was a member of the group of Democrats that deposed Liston Ramsey as speaker. He contends that there has been some evidence of the two parties working together during Cooper’s first term.

In closing, Kirk emphasized that all these people are imperfect, but were in politics for all the right reasons. Criticism is permissible, but one must remember how challenging politics is, and how much sacrifice it requires.

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