CHARLOTTE — Jim Hunt, the longest-serving governor of North Carolina, cited Duke in a speech promoting government investment in elementary and higher education at the Democratic National Convention Wednesday.
Welcoming delegates, members of the media and convention-goers to the state, he highlighted Research Triangle Park and local universities, attributing North Carolina’s success to the thriving of those institutions. He said institutions like RTP and universities sustain North Carolina’s “high-tech and thriving” economy of today, tying the education system to former governor and Duke President Terry Sanford and his policies.
A longtime friend of Sanford’s, Hunt once called him “one of the greatest leaders in North Carolina history” and often heralds the dedication Sanford had to providing fair, high-quality education to people of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Fifty years ago, this was a poor state—poor, rural and rigidly segregated. But we had a governor named Terry Sanford—a hero of mine,” Hunt said in his DNC address. “He broke with most southerners in 1960 and endorsed John F. Kennedy. When other southern governors stood in the schoolhouse door, Terry Sanford stood up for civil rights. He worked with business leaders, political and education leaders to build our great universities, our 58 community colleges and our public schools.”
Hunt then likened Sanford’s efforts in education to those of President Barack Obama.
“In the depth of the near depression, that he faced when he came in, Barack Obama and Democratic leaders in Congress provided recovery funds that literally kept our classrooms open,” he said.
Obama’s educational stimulus helped save nearly 20,000 teacher and education jobs in N.C. alone, Hunt noted. He also touted Obama’s loyalty to providing and improving early childhood education.
Still, North Carolina’s unemployment rate was at 9.6 percent as of July, higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent.
In addition to Obama’s dedication to public elementary and high school education, his support of increased funding for Pell grants and lower student loan interest rates sets him apart from Mitt Romney, Hunt added. Obama also invested $115 million in historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina, he said.
Hunt said he admires Obama as a leader for the same reason he did Sanford—because he is not afraid to act in accordance to his beliefs though they may not be popular in all camps, noting his Race To the Top program as the most ambitious public education program the U.S. has seen.
“President Barack Obama is a doer,” Hunt said. “And we in America will do big things with him.”