CHARLOTTE — Former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt offered a North Carolina political history lesson of sorts to the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday, identifying President Barack Obama as committed to public education, just like himself and the late Gov. Terry Sanford.
Hunt, speaking to the delegates within Time Warner Cable Arena, said the president should be re-elected in November because he understands the importance of early-childhood education and paying for teachers in the classroom.
Hunt, now 75 and still one of the state’s most popular politicians, talked about how North Carolina’s Democrats like him and Sanford saw the importance of building up the state’s university and community college system and the public schools as a way to create a bright economic future.
“We are doers in this state. We build for the future,” Hunt told the crowd just before the prime-time television hours. “We want leaders who are doers. And in Barack Obama, we have a great education president who is rebuilding America.”
Hunt served as governor from 1977 to 1985, and returned to the Executive Mansion from 1993 until 2001. He is now an attorney at a Raleigh law firm and continues to host an annual forum at his alma mater, North Carolina State University.
Hunt called Sanford, who was governor from 1961 to 1965 and later a U.S. senator, a mentor who stood up for civil rights in what was once a “poor, rural, and rigidly segregated” state and worked with politicians as well as business and education leaders.
Hunt focused his last eight years as governor on raising teacher salaries and successfully lobbying lawmakers to create the Smart Start early-childhood initiative. Students participating in Smart Start have now finished high school and contributed to the highest graduation rate in the state’s history, Hunt said.
Republican state lawmakers in North Carolina have criticized Democrats recently on education, accusing them of throwing money at student-performance problems that haven’t been fixed.
Hunt said Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress provided funds to keep teachers in the classroom following the Great Recession, and that the president increased funding for college financial aid grants.
According to Hunt, Republicans believe their policies are based on the premise that “job growth will happen like magic.”
“Folks, magic didn’t do it in North Carolina. This is not a time for America to believe in magic.”
North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan also took the stage Wednesday with other female U.S. senators, but didn’t speak. Former Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt was supposed to speak briefly Wednesday but his speech was delayed until Thursday. Gov. Beverly Perdue and Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx spoke at the convention Tuesday.