Politics & Government

Saying goodbye to three men who wrote NC’s political history

In this file photo historian H.G. Jones looks over his papers and sketches from his compilation of “Sketches in North Carolina USA: 1872 to 1878.” Jones died Oct. 14.
In this file photo historian H.G. Jones looks over his papers and sketches from his compilation of “Sketches in North Carolina USA: 1872 to 1878.” Jones died Oct. 14. 2002 News & Observer file photo

Gene Anderson, who helped engineer the election of North Carolina’s first Republican governor in the 20th century, died Saturday in Wilmington.

Anderson, 80, was the chief campaign strategist for Republican Jim Holshouser’s 1972 breakthrough election as governor. During the four years of the Holshouser administration, Anderson was the governor’s chief aide and person who was often in the headlines across the state. He helped Holshouser push through a moderate agenda that included the creation of the state kindergarten system and health clinics in under-served rural areas.

As a hard-nosed political operative, Anderson was often the administration’s lightning rod as it moved to replace Democratic state workers with Republicans. But he was also in the middle of factional disputes with the more conservative wing of the GOP headed by Sen. Jesse Helms.

Such was his influence, that he was labeled “the Svengali in the governor’s office,” by Claude Sitton, then editor of The News and Observer. “The staff Rasputin,” was how he was described by state Rep. Claude DeBruhl, a Democrat.

Anderson always said such descriptions were overblown.

The former Iowa newsman came to North Carolina in 1967 to become the state GOP’s first executive secretary working for Holshouser and, in 1968, the state campaign manager for Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign.

Holshouser not only highly valued Anderson’s political advice, but came to rely on him to help handle the difficult political chores of political patronage, whether it was hiring Republicans for state jobs long held by Democrats, or keeping the GOP organization in line.

If Holshouser had a bit of a choir boy image, the 35-year old Anderson was the administration’s bad boy. Anderson’s appearance in state government would cause nervous whispers. The hard-drinking Anderson sometimes made the news for getting involved in a fracas in a Raleigh nightclub or for driving too fast.

During the GOP factional wars of the 1970s, Anderson was the field general for the moderate conservatives led by Holshouser against the more conservative, who were led by Helms. He helped manage President Gerald Ford’s state campaign in 1976, while Helms and his allies backed Ronald Reagan in the primary. Reagan won.

After the Holshouser administration, Anderson held a number of posts including chief of staff to Alabama Gov. Guy Hunt, and co-owner, with his wife Bobbie, of Sun Spots Realty in Topsail.

Historian’s death

H.G. Jones, one of North Carolina’s leading historians, died Sunday at age 94. Few people did more to preserve Tar Heel history than Jones.

In 1956, Jones became state archivist and in 1968, he became director of the N.C. State Department of Archives. In 1974, he moved to Chapel Hill to become curator of the North Carolina Collection and adjunct professor of history at the University of North Carolina. All the while, he was churning out books and articles.

His was quite a journey for someone who was raised on a tenant farm in the Kill Quick community of Caswell County.

“H.G. Jones grew up in a house without books to become one of the most prolific writers and distinguished archivists in North Carolina,” said the citation announcing his winning the North Carolina award in 2002.

In this file photo, Republican Richard Morgan, right, is shown with Democrat James Black. The two shared the title of Speaker of the House for two years after the 2002 elections. Morgan died on Oct. 10. N&O file photo

Former House Speaker dies

Richard Morgan, who brokered a rare bipartisan deal to become co-speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives, died on Oct. 10 at age 66 at Duke Medical Center in Durham.

Morgan, who served in the Holshouser administration, represented Moore County in the state House from 1991-2006. His moment arrived after the 2002 elections, when the election results — and some party-switching — resulted in a 60/60 tie in the House.

Morgan agreed to a deal with dissenting Republicans to form a co-speakership with Democrat Jim Black. Morgan presided on one day, and Black the next.

Democrats accepted the deal which lasted two years, but many Republicans felt they had been robbed.

Morgan lost his seat in 2006 in a primary in which conservative Republicans poured money to his opponent.

Morgan was a supporter of environmental laws and worked to establish the UNC Cancer Center in Chapel Hill and the Heart Center at East Carolina University.

Morgan, who owned an insurance agency, ran unsuccessfully for superintendent of public instruction in 2008 and for commissioner of insurance in 2012.

Rob Christensen can be reached at robc@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532.