Three former governors who led our state for a total of 28 years took center stage at Memorial Hall at UNC-Chapel Hill earlier this month. Sponsored by the UNC Institute of Politics, the 80 minutes was historical, insightful and time well spent.

Whatever disagreements Jim Hunt, Jim Martin and Pat McCrory may have had with each other have obviously moderated over time.

They complemented, joked with and agreed frequently with each other, as evidenced by Martin noting that Jim Hunt was both his predecessor and successor. Using a sandwich analogy, he said he was the bologna between two slices of bread.

Asked to forecast needs by the year 2030 Hunt said developing our people was the critical need, especially in early childhood, where children need good childcare, healthcare and education.

McCrory cited infrastructure, connecting rural areas to where the jobs are. He also said continued development along I-40 and I-85 would see them become one continuous community. We must develop transportation corridors connecting us to Atlanta, Birmingham, Richmond and Washington.

Time is running out to develop mass transit. All agreed it was harmful that the Raleigh-Durham light rail project collapsed. Martin added that we have to find new transportation funding sources because the gas tax is declining and won’t be sufficient.

McCrory interjected we should try toll roads, adding tongue-in-cheek, it was a good way to get elected. Many blame his re-election failure on toll lanes around Charlotte, but Martin pointed out McCrory did the right thing.

On the topic of education Martin raised two points. The first is grade inflation in our universities, noting that when he was in college the average grade was a “C.” Today it is a “B+,” making it hard for employers to differentiate potential employees.

He bemoaned the lack of political diversity in faculties, saying we must offer students a diversity of ideas, even those that might be painful to some.

Hunt added that we must insist on excellence in professors, those who “press students to the wall” to defend the student’s thinking. McCrory said we need to re-engineer our colleges. For instance, taking summers off is an archaic concept dating back to when students had to work on farms.

Costs are too high, McCrory added, not just to students, but also to taxpayers. When you factor in actual costs, including the expense of pensions and health benefits to faculty and administrators, the real costs would be $60,000 per year or more per student.

If these institutions were businesses, McCrory said, they would be bankrupt.

Asked how they viewed the current political climate Hunt said we must change election and campaign finance laws so that extremists don’t dominate primary elections.

McCrory worried that multiple caucuses within our political parties are determining primaries and affecting compromise. Hunt said extremists like the current laws because it keeps them in power.

Martin concluded by quoting William Butler Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” written after World War I.

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre

 The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

 Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

 The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

 The best lack all conviction, while the worst

 Are full of passionate intensity.

Martin interpreted these lines to mean that moderates have pulled out of both political parties, leaving them to extremists. These extremists no longer have to listen to those in the middle. Ultimately the center cannot hold.

The real lesson is that moderates need to re-engage with their political parties so their voices will be heard and heeded.  

The evening was titled “Esse Quam Viderie,” our state moto, that translated means “to be rather than to seem.”

Our three governors offered truths to help us become more than just a motto.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina state treasurer.

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