One on one with Rep. Jim Crawford Jr.

Jan. 05, 2013 @ 05:10 PM

Outgoing Rep. Jim Crawford Jr. recently sat down with The Dispatch for an interview, reflecting on his 28 years serving in the N.C. House of Representatives.

The Oxford Democrat shared his views on a number of topics. The Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, print edition of The Dispatch includes a story. Here are some more excerpts from that interview.

DD: Anything you tried to do in the time since you’ve realized this was it, last few months, anything tried to do specifically while in office?

CRAWFORD: No, I just tried to tie up loose ends. The folks in Butner want some property from the state, and I’ve been working on trying to get that straight for them. And the governor invited me to be on his transition team. We’re meeting pretty regularly, trying to work on the problem areas in the budget basically. Medicaid, we’re going to talk about I.T., we’re going to talk about state salaries. The salary system is a mess after four years and no money. Hiring people has become a real problem for the state and keeping the ones that are working satisfied while you’re hiring new people, you’re having to put more money in there to hire the new people. It’s a real problem for the state.

DD: Do you have a timeframe of how long you’ll be working with the transition team?

CRAWFORD: I don’t have a clue. I may work with the legislature, and I may work with the governor, depending on who needs me and who wants me. I’ve served as the chairman of the appropriations committee longer than anybody in the history of the North Carolina legislature.

DD: How long?

CRAWFORD: Twelve years as chairman, and I’ve worked on the budget every session except the first. I was on the finance committee the first session. And that was a revelation. We had an old fellow from down in Concord, or Kannapolis actually, who was head of that committee. We would vote, and whatever he decided he wanted, that’s how the vote went. Everybody would vote no, and he’d say “they ayes have it,” that type of thing. He was a very domineering and very dominant fellow. The good part on my part, my wife’s family was from down there, and he respected that. He came by and told me one day, everybody in the legislature has committed to Liston Ramsey for the next term but you. Of course, I expect he told 25 or 30 of us that. But that was the kind of fellow he was.

DD: An indoctrination right off the bat?

CRAWFORD: I didn’t think much of that kind of indoctrination. I’ve tried, when I was running committees, to be much more open. The chairman of a committee generally has a lot of latitude in who runs bills and whose bills you take up. I’ve chaired the transportation committee for years. When the Department of Transportation would bring in the bills that they needed, the legislation they needed passed, they naturally bring it to the chairman. Some chairmen take it and run it all in their names. I would pick people out of the committee and let each one of them take one. I felt the process ought to be more open.

DD: And it gave them more credibility?

CRAWFORD: Absolutely. It made a lot of difference in my relationships with people. I used to tell the story about being on the legislative basketball team. I came back and started talking to people. I said I know you didn’t send me over there to play basketball with the legislature, but I have my first bill in the judicial committee. And George Miller from Durham was the chairman of the committee. And he says Rep. Crawford has his bill, what would you like to do? Are there any comments? And the guard on the basketball team said I move we give it a favorable report. And the forward said I second the motion. And I didn’t even get to explain my bill. That’s the relationships of what makes a difference.

DD: You must have been a good passer?

CRAWFORD: I was a point guard. Sure enough!

DD: Helping Pat McCrory’s team – will it be weeks or months? Fair to say?

CRAWFORD: Possibly but not likely. They interviewed me to talk about taking a job and I just told them, thank-you but no thank-you.

DD: Can I ask what the job was?

CRAWFORD: I’m not sure. I suspect it had something to do with the budget and the budget process. Art Pope took the job I think they were talking to me about. Frankly, I’ve been a Democrat all my life, and the Democrats see some things a little differently than the way Republicans see them. But even more than that, the Republicans have never governed. They need a lot of help. They don’t seem to understand that if you take a balloon and squeeze it, the air pops out somewhere else. If you cut the money out of mental health, you’re going to pay for it in the emergency room and in the prisons. And they don’t seem to understand this cause and effect that you need to do governing. You can’t just go in and chop things. There are reasons that we’ve helped non-profits over the years. Non-profits do a great job of helping with problems. And they have a feeling that all the non-profits ought not to be relying on the government for any funds. Well, if you take the funds away from the Food Bank of North Carolina, the amount of food that folks have is going to drop off. And so, those relationships I’ve tried to help them understand. But I didn’t want to make up the Republican budget and folks point at Jim Crawford and say Jim Crawford has made a mess. Look what he’s trying to take away from us. I’d much rather try to take a backseat and do some guiding and helping if I can, if they’ll listen. And I think some of them will.

DD: That’s interesting, given that you’re one of the five crossing party lines on key voting.

CRAWFORD: Well, I crossed party lines because the Republicans had cut $400 million out of education. I said if you’ll put $300 million back in public education, and $100 million back in the university system, I’ll vote for the bill. They put $300 million back in public school education and $100 million back in the university system. I didn’t sell out cheap. I just felt like it was important not to hit education that hard.

DD: Sounds like, in a roundabout way, you were seen as going across party lines but yet you helped the Democratic governor, Bev Perdue, who was high on education?

CRAWFORD: Well, she vetoed those bills we voted for, but in truth, I think we helped the state of North Carolina maybe more so, and it probably made Gov. Perdue look better, too, in the long run. I don’t think she would like to say we helped her. We did talk to her during that time. All five of us went over and talked with her about what we were doing and why.

DD: How was she with that?

CRAWFORD: She listened. She didn’t like the idea of us overriding anything. But I think she knew there were reasons and we felt like it was the right thing to do. There was a lot of experience in the five people that were overriding those. Bill Owens had been in government 30 years, Dewey Hill had been in the legislature for probably 15 or 20 years, so people that knew the process inside and out.

DD: She’s been around the block a few times herself. There was a lot of experience in the entire conversation.

CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah. She came to the legislature the year after I did, so she came about 1985 or 1986, somewhere in that area.

DD: How is your relationship with her now?

CRAWFORD: That’s interesting. I’m not absolutely sure. She is very, very friendly on the outside. I don’t know how she feels on the inside. I notice some of the issues that I was working on got pulled off the Council of State meeting, so we’ll see.

DD: How about your relationship with the state Democratic Party?

CRAWFORD: I’ve never had much of a relationship with the state Democratic Party. They are not involved in legislative races much, and seldom talk to us.

DD: How about constituents around here? Much backlash, or pats on the back?

CRAWFORD: I got so many pats on the back I was getting a backache. People don’t want us to be partisan except to just the yellow dogs on both sides. The NCAE, the teachers union, was fighting against me. There were union type groups, maybe even the state employees. I never have understood the state employees being against me. I’ve done everything I could for them over the years. They don’t seem to understand when you don’t have any money, you just can’t get spread it out and give them some.

DD: People in Washington should understand that, too.

CRAWFORD: Those groups came after me, and the gay rights people came after me, because I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. If they want to have a relationship, that’s fine. But a marriage? I don’t think that’s cricket.

DD: The time you spent in Raleigh – is there anything that stands out as the biggest difference when you got there and now?

CRAWFORD: When I got to the legislature, Liston Ramsey was the Speaker. We worked Monday night through noon on Friday. He had a reception every night that if you wanted to, you could eat at the reception and not have to put any money into it. He worked real hard to make it a legislature that poor people could belong to and have their meals. I’m sure that after the receptions, a lot of the leadership would meet with the people who were giving the reception. I was thinking, four receptions a week, must have been some kind of hard to stir up for a whole legislative session. But we had a reception every night and sometimes we had breakfasts in the morning to talk to legislators, Realtors, home builders, mental health groups, everybody entertained the legislators. When I got there, there was a whole lot of drinking. Couple of years, couple of legislators got caught, and all of a sudden we had a whole lot of Coca-Colas and Pepsis on the table and less liquor. I never have been a drinker, so it didn’t bother me one way or the other. But the way it was run, Liston Ramsey ran the legislature with an iron hand. He had, in the beginning, about 10 people around him that made things work. And as time passed, some of them didn’t run, or one would die off, and he didn’t replace them with anybody. It got down to two people basically making the decisions for the legislature. One of them was in my district and ran with me. I voted against them, and we overthrew Mr. Ramsey for Mr. Mavretic. That was a big change. Speakers used to rotate every year, east and west, and when Jim Hunt had the legislation passed so he could run for a second term, Liston Ramsey said if he’s going to run for a second term I better stay here and we need some strength in the legislature to offset the executive powers. So he became a long-term Speaker. I guess Carl Stewart that first ran for two terms, then they started running for four terms.

When you’re in a seat of power, you can consolidate a lot of power and bring a lot of it home. With the Mavretic coo, it began to spread out some. After Mavretic, Dan Blue was the Speaker for two terms. His first term, I ran for lieutenant governor, so I was out the second term. I ran as dean of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources committee. That group probably went a little too far to their side of things and there was a backlash and the Republicans won. And Brubaker became speaker. I was trying to remember, I didn’t vote for Brubaker his first term, but I did vote for him second term. And he appointed me as one of the big chairs of the appropriations committee. And I served there the rest of my time. I had chaired the appropriations committee for education for Mavretic, and then transportation. And then I served appropriations chair several sessions.

That’s when we got that bridge out here over I-85 at Ruin Creek Road. There were three design-build projects. They were projects to see if that process would work. There were three across the state, and one just appeared in our district. They were going to build a bypass first and dump all the traffic and then build a bridge. And I said folks, wouldn’t it make a whole lot more sense to build a bridge before you put the traffic at that intersection. And they said yeah, that might make more sense. So they built the bridges first and then the bypasses around that side of town.

Then of course, after Dan Blue and Brubaker, Brubaker had two terms, and then Jim Black became the Speaker. He was Speaker for four terms I guess, eight years. I was his appropriations chair, and then Hackney took over. I don’t think he really wanted to appoint me as appropriations chair. He was far more liberal. But he me on the committee with the appropriations chair, and Mickey Michaux was named the appropriations chair. I’d love for you to hear Doug Young tell the story. Mickey made me come sit right by him. I sat down at the other end of the table. He said no, you come up here by me in the meetings. I would make comments to him sort of under my breath. Mickey was on the right, I was here, and Doug Young was on my left. I’d make a comment and Mickey was just come right out with whatever I said. One time, I made sort of an off-color comment and he came right out with that, too.

I learned over the years to use staff. We have a hundred folks in the legislature that work as staff. It took me a long time to understand how important they were. They can make you look real good if you listen. I work with staff really well, and enjoyed working with them. The last 10 years, I probably worked very closely with staff. When you go to the legislature, they try to button-hole you and put you in an area. Liston Ramsey put me in mental health. I signed up for the committee because of Butner, and the area over here, and felt we ought to have someone on that committee. It turns out it probably did us very well in the long run. When it came time to locate the new mental hospital, I had a right good say in where the mental hospital went. I wasn’t the deciding factor by any means. Gordon Allen from Roxboro did a fantastic job. He was chairing the committee, and he took us in an order that sort of gave us the strongest presentation, and Stan Fox worked with it too.

We used to have a district with three representatives here. We represented everything from the Guilford County line to the bridge on Interstate 95 in Roanoke Rapids. They broke that up, and said it wasn’t fair for us to have three representatives in that area. But having more representatives in a community is good. A lot of folks think you ought to have one and live in our town. The truth is, if you’ve got three representatives, they’ve all got friends over there. They’ve all got groups that they interact with. And when it comes time to pass legislation for your area, if you’ve three people and they’ve got 10 friends apiece, you’ve got a head start. If you’re one person, they can gang up on you pretty easy. I think it’s good to have three representatives. Granville is fussing now because they don’t have anybody, but I think they’ll be all right. They have two or three people representing them. Of course, they only have one House member representing them, and the Democrat is out right now and he’s a Democrat. He’s a great guy, not a strong legislator.

DD: Who?

CRAWFORD: Winkie Wilkins. I think a lot of Winkie. His brother was a strong legislator. It’s interesting, a lot of people like to stand up and speak on every issue. They like to have something to say. If you do that, when the time comes and you’ve really got an issue, nobody listens. The legislature, it’s always embarrassing when children are up in the gallery. They don’t understand the humdrum because they’re supposed to be quiet in the classroom. The legislative floor is like a beehive. You’re walking around trying to talk people into voting for your bill. Sometimes that’s the only place you have to see people. We don’t have those receptions like we used to anymore. We have a few, but they’re not attended like they used to be. That’s sort of been the social change. We have receptions, but people don’t count on them to eat anymore much. They have them at the museum of natural history, over at the historical museum, people pop over for a few minutes, usually go out with their groups to eat. I came home every night.

I used to tell people I put them all to bed and them I come home. In the old days, everybody lived in the Sir Walter Hotel and boy you best not leave. You had to be where things were going on. But the last few years, people lived all over Raleigh. People living close by all commuted. It was a very different atmosphere. It’s a fun place to be. Everybody is nice to each other most all the time because you’re counting on the other man’s vote, but the parties have split so bad that the wings are controlling the parties. The far left and the far right control who is in power in the party. And so, the big middle has been split between the more liberal Republicans and more conservative Democrats have been split. So the middle that ought to be running things is not running them anymore. It’s a great divide, and it’s not good. Most issues pass 119-2 still, but the controversial issues, the kind of things like social issues that people bring up, have really split the parties. That gets very bitter. Our caucus, instead of wanting to get along and work things out with people, wanted to fight everything that came up. And Republicans were the same way. They wanted to throw hand grenades. That’s no way to govern. You need to get everybody’s good ideas to work together, and if somebody has a good idea, you need to work together to pass it, not fight it just because it’s somebody else’s idea.

DD: Is there a fix? A magic bullet?

CRAWFORD: I guess the five of us were the fix. It was real interesting, the Speaker and the president pro-tem had a breakfast for the five of us after several of those votes and they said thank-you for saving us from ourselves. They appreciated very much having enough votes to make things work.

DD: Redistricting didn’t seem to be problem before.

CRAWFORD: I was always amused that the Democrats were screaming bloody murder about the redistricting. They’ve done it their way for years. So what? They called me from Washington asking me what I thought of it. I said, well, we’ve been doing it to them. I guess it’s their turn. Everybody says it needs to be non-political. How do you appoint people to make something non-political? It’s just a matter of whose politics, that’s all. Even if you try to come up with a group of people to draw the lines, they’re going to draw them like they see fit.

DD: Everybody has interest.

CRAWFORD: Sure, otherwise they wouldn’t be on the committee.

DD: I find it interesting what Perdue did, as far as saying she was taking politics out of judicial appointments. If Dalton had won, I believe she’d have let the process go through.

CRAWFORD: Oh, yeah, probably so. And they want to take away the right to vote for the state superintendent. Some of the other offices, the court system, and even though you don’t know who the folks are in the court system, I don’t want to take away the vote and have the governor appoint. You know good and well they’re going to get their folks on the committee and get it to their side. I think we’re better off with the vote. If it’s bad enough, we’ll know who they are.

DD: One theory was that the 2008 winner of the governor’s race between Bev Perdue and Pat McCrory was going to be a one-termer. Is it possible the Democrats won the wrong governor’s race? Now, they’re left without control of the governor’s office, the House or the Senate.

CRAWFORD: I think you’re right. I think it might have gone the other way. The Republicans would have been in complete control if Pat had won the second time around (at 2010 mid-terms). I don’t know how in the world, economy-wise, Obama won this time. I just, for the life of me, I can not understand why folks would put him back in. He was well-organized.

DD: Technology wise, his folks wrote the book in 2008.

CRAWFORD: They ate their lunch.

DD: He had smart people and they did a number. But this last time, I thought things he had done for certain groups, immigration and those things, is what did it.

CRAWFORD: He’s got a lot of folks depending on the government now. A lot. And I think more people ought to pay taxes. And I guess when North Carolina took 600,000 off the books, that’s probably been 15 to 18 years ago, we made a horrible mistake. Not that they pay much tax, but they pay some tax. You’ve got to have some skin in the game to appreciate the game. And I think that’s probably been a mistake that we made. I know we don’t want people hungry, and we don’t want to take money from people that can’t afford to pay. But by the same token, we can’t kill the American dream. You’ve got to give people the opportunity to get to the middle class. I’m afraid the way things are going now, the middle class is shrinking. We need a lot of help in Vance County.

People don’t seem to understand. Take this shopping center, I borrowed the money to build this shopping center. Seven and a half million dollars, or something like that. Well, your interest on your money is deductible from your business as an expense. But you’ve got to make a profit to pay the bank back. The payback comes out of your profit. Well, I don’t get that money, I pay tax on it as a profit. But if you start cutting into making me pay more taxes, then I can’t pay the bank back, because that’s where that money comes out of that they’re calling profit. But I don’t get it. I pay it to the bank. I could see the interest rate getting so high, or I could see the taxes getting so high on my profit, they say I made Obama’s $250,000 or $300,000, and he takes 50 percent of that for taxes, and then I have $150,000. I pay the bank $150,000, and I don’t have anything. People don’t seem to understand that that’s the way it works.

DD: Is there anything people will remember you by, what you did?

CRAWFORD: You know, I was carrying a bucket of water to put my Christmas tree in. And I put my hand down in there to see what a hole I would leave. When I took it out, it just filled right up. I’ve got to the age that I understand that when you’re gone, you’re gone. People appreciate it immediately, but time moves on. And I expect time to move on.

DD: Is that the what have you done for me lately?

CRAWFORD: Yep, what have you done for me lately? I’ve enjoyed what I have done, I’ve been richly rewarded for what I have done. I love the people. I love to see them doing well. They’re still calling by the dozens with problems. I do everything I can to help them. Somebody called yesterday, and wanted to know if I could help. They had a friend being foreclosed on. You just get tons of information in the legislature, and you’re able to tie people to places that can help. And those kinds of things, I don’t have to be in the legislature to help with. It takes an inordinate amount of time. I probably spend three hours every day working on other folks’ problems, but I enjoy doing it.

DD: You must have to keep doing it.

CRAWFORD: I feel very richly rewarded. And it makes me feel good to help other people and to work for them. And I have done very well in my shopping center. They ask me what I do in Raleigh for a living. I tell them I fix toilets and pick up trash. But it’s been a great little shopping center. They’re as many offices out here now as there are shopping. I tell you, this recession has been murder on the retail business, just murder. Folks that have made it through this have really got a good business.

DD: Anything we didn’t cover?

CRAWFORD: It’s been fun being part of the power structure. A lot of legislators come and go and never understand where they are or what they’re doing or why they’re there, or how to work the process. I’ve been very lucky. For the last 12 years, and even before that, I’ve been a part of the decision-making group. And it’s just like church or anywhere else, you’ve got a lot of people that do the work, and a lot of people that just come to church. That’s the way the legislature is. There are probably, out of 120, they’re probably 15 that really run things and make the decisions. There are others that have input, and talk in the committees and go through the committee process, but it really comes down to a few to make the final decision. It’s not the big issues like education, or health and human services, that hold up legislative sessions. It’s the fact that Marc Basnight wants to put $50 million into the university cancer center, and Jim Black wants to give $1 million a year for four years to Johnson & Wales University. They are the issues that hold the legislature up for six extra weeks until people work out their individual differences. And that’s bad. In my opinion, that’s bad. But that’s sort of the way it works.

I’ve told lobbyists time and time again, we have committee meetings all summer long getting ready for the session. Lobbyists come in and they’re worried to death because they’ve got an issue in one of these committees and they can’t get it like they want it. I said, don’t worry. Get your point across in the committee and don’t worry about it. It’s got to go to this committee, it’s got to be introduced in the legislature, it’s got to go to another committee, if it passes one house it’s got to go to the other house, and then it’s got to come to the appropriations committee to see if it gets funded. When you’re further up on the scale, you don’t have to worry about minutiae because you know you’re going to get a crack at it when it gets to the top.

DD: Thank you for your time.

CRAWFORD: I’ve enjoyed it. I don’t know whether I ought to try to write a little book about the legislature in 30 years, the social change in the legislature, the power structures, who controlled things. I’ve tried to tell legislators for years, it’s not what you do over here. People don’t care what you do in Raleigh. You answer their questions at home.

I started what they call the model teacher consortium years ago. A fellow from Roanoke Rapids brought the idea to me. He said what we need to do is bring the college professors to the rural areas to help the teachers. They teach the courses in the rural areas, because the teachers can’t pick up and leave their families and go to classes. We desperately need some education and some help. We can create some teachers in this rural area. He said you come to Northampton County, and a young girl comes in and says, well where can I live? They said we can put a double-wide out in this field for you. It’s just not very alluring. He said we can train the girls that live there to be teachers, and we can educate these children. So I introduced a bill and we started the model teacher consortium. For years, it worked in this area. And, I told this guy’s wife was one of the girls that took these courses. We had janitors that became teachers. Then Fayetteville and Durham wanted to join. Well, Fayetteville and Durham joined and took all of our money. So it is now dissolved. But we desperately needed it. It was a great program for the rural areas.

People want to know why the rural areas are dying. It’s because our children can’t come back here and live. There’s nothing for them to do. I’ve been working with the biofuels center. People say that’s ridiculous, it’s just something Washington has cooked up, and biofuels are going to be gone. If we can create a crop to raise in Eastern North Carolina, to put the farmers back to work, we can have small manufacturing plants that change it from reeds to fuel, and then we can distribute that fuel in this area and not have to haul it anywhere and save money. They can make plastics out of it, it’s not just fuel. If we can create an industry here, that the labor we’ve got here can do, it would mean the world to this area. And everything from here to the coast.

DD: We don’t need just jobs, we need jobs that our people can work.

CRAWFORD: People don’t seem to understand that you’ve got to put people to work. We don’t have any money for government if you don’t have people working and paying taxes. We’re choking. Besides that, we have all that Internet business that is taking the sales tax away. And that’s another area that, somehow or another, we need to shore up so that at least we get some tax from that area.

DD: I’m impressed with Kinston and Lenoir County, which has attracted Sanderson Farms, a place its workforce can work.

CRAWFORD: There were 1,100 people that worked in the cotton mill when I worked over there. All those jobs are gone. Rose’s stores had its offices here, and people lived here and built the country club, the hospital and the YMCA. They had all those places. They had Continental Hosiery, which is over there on Dabney Drive in that big brick building that is now an office building. There was one across the street over here. There was another one on Yadkin. We probably had seven sock factories in Vance County, cotton mills, Roses and the Fast Fare food chain started here and left. We had the distributions for Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola, Shell Oil, Exxon, Texaco, and all these things brought money back into this community. I try to tell people it started with the telephone company and Carolina Power & Light were the first two to pull out. They probably had 150 to 200 girls working here in Vance County. They had a switchboard over there next to the newspaper, that building was full of girls. They were all gone. And then come along, then they bought the banks. We had capital in them. We had rich banks here. They took all the money. I tried to borrow the money for this shopping center from NCNB before they were Bank of America and they said we’re sorry, we can’t loan you the money. I went to Raleigh and borrowed the money from NCNB, the same bank, because all the capital was over there and being controlled over there. Then came along the fast food chains. Hardees was the first one, and did one hell of a business. We had 23 restaurants. Now how many local restaurants do we have? Three or four? Then Lowe’s comes in, kills all the hardware stores. Now we’ve got one hardware store besides Lowe’s, and I just keep it open to make the shopping center look good. Then you have Walmart, and that killed everything else. Drug stores – we don’t have any drug stores. We had them all over town. There were probably six or seven in town. All that is gone now. We’ve got Walgreen’s and CVS, and all that money goes out of town.

DD: Thanks for your time.