North Carolina in the 1970s
North Carolina needed visionary leadership to develop a brighter economic future. The state had one of the highest unemployment rates in the country as traditional manufacturing industries such as textiles, furniture, and tobacco declined. The educational system needed reform, lacking investment in infrastructure and teacher training as well as pay.
Inspired by Terry Sanford’s advocacy for a quality education for every North Carolinian, Hunt successfully campaigned for lieutenant governor in 1972 on the connection between educational reform and sustainable economic health. Once elected, he would work successfully with Governor Jim Holshouser—across party lines—to pass a $300 million bond issue to raise teacher pay and establish statewide kindergartens. The pair also teamed up to pass the Coastal Area Management Act, which provided for the preservation and management of the twenty coastal counties between Virginia and South Carolina. Hunt was also a strong advocate for the medical school at East Carolina University.
A Love For Learning
Jim Hunt developed an early love for learning and reading from his family. At a time when most states had half-day kindergartens, Hunt’s campaign for lieutenant governor included a plan to extend kindergarten to a full day, which became a reality during his years as governor. Every campaign throughout the “Education Governor’s” career has emphasized statewide access to an equitable educational system supported by high-quality teachers. From 1987 to 1997 he chaired the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
Putting theory into practice, Hunt always took time from his busy governor’s schedule to volunteer weekly in local schools during his four terms, helping students with their lessons and reading skills. His wife, Carolyn, shares this passion for education, having graduated with a degree in teaching from UNC–Chapel Hill. She also taught in a Nepalese school during their two years there. From 1986 to 1990, Carolyn served on the Wilson County School Board, and she was a weekly school volunteer for thirty-five years.
Hunt launched a campaign for governor in 1976. His platform for what would be the first of four terms was built on four goals:
Betty Ray McCain
Betty Ray McCain also came from a politically active family in Duplin County and worked with James and Elsie Hunt (Jim Hunt’s parents) on Terry Sanford’s 1960 gubernatorial campaign. She met Hunt through their work for the Democratic Party, where she was active with the NC Democratic Women. She would eventually co-chair Hunt’s successful gubernatorial campaign and become a member of the Democratic Party’s executive committee, and later state party chair. An important advocate for the humanities, she also led the way for women to become more politically active in North Carolina and nationally. In 1993, Governor Hunt appointed her secretary of the Department of Cultural Resources. Over eight years, she was instrumental in the development of the North Carolina Museum of History, the North Carolina Museum of Art, and the building of Meymandi Concert Hall, home of the North Carolina Symphony, where a performance hall honors her.
Equal Rights Amendment
The Equal Rights Amendment, a proposed twenty-seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting gender discrimination, was passed by Congress on March 22, 1972. The ERA was ratified by twenty-two states by the end of that year—but not North Carolina. Despite support from then Lieutenant Governor Hunt and Governor Holshouser, the state legislature rejected the amendment in close votes throughout the 1970s, missing ratification by one vote in the state senate under Governor Hunt in 1977. Lacking the thirty-eight states required for national adoption, the ERA was ultimately rejected nationally in 1982. But Hunt’s advocacy for women’s rights continued as he established the North Carolina Council for Women.
College of Veterinary Medicine
Recognizing the need for more veterinarians as the state’s livestock industry grew and opportunities to work with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries took root in Research Triangle Park, Governor Hunt had the state appropriate funding for a school of Veterinary Medicine at NC State in his 1979–1980 and 1980–1981 budgets. The school’s first class of students was admitted in August 1981, and its first class of veterinarians graduated in May 1985. The academic school became the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1987.
The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
The North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics was one of Governor Hunt’s first initiatives when he took office. It is a fully funded, residential public high school focused on the intensive study of science, mathematics, and technology. This program for juniors and seniors, one of the first of its kind, received national and international attention. Jim Hunt wrote of the NCSSM in 1978, “The idea for a science high school has been around for more than a dozen years. . . . I think that we need that kind of school even more today, because of the way science and technology have literally exploded into realms we never dreamed of, changing almost everything in our lives.”
The NCSSM has grown to include programs such as Summer Ventures in Science and Mathematics. Summer Ventures challenges academically talented students interested in science and mathematics and aspiring to a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). The cost-free, state-funded program places rising high school juniors and seniors in a residential college setting to perform research and intensive study. The program is currently hosted at four UNC system campuses: Appalachian State University, East Carolina University, North Carolina Central University, and UNC–Charlotte.