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"Excerpts - The GOP Tapes: Jack Lee, N.C. GOP Chairman, 1976-81"
Reprinted with permission from the Raleigh News
& Observer (July 6, 1997).
Lee, mayor of Fayetteville in the '70s, played a major role in developing
the GOP in Eastern North Carolina. His radio station was the first to
begin rebroadcasting the TV editorials of Jesse Helms and he helped
launch Helms' political career in 1972.
1960: A Republican in a Democratic Land
How Lee remembers the political landscape when he arrived in the
early '60s and a story about trying to register to vote.
"I had just assumed that there weren't any Republicans down here
from what I had heard. And, basically, party registration, no, there
weren't any. We had Charles Raper Jones sitting in Congress, and that
"If I remember rightly, there was one state senator, and this was
when every county had a representative in the House so there were a
few in the House from some of those western counties out there, Avery,
and Ashe, and some of those where we do have some registered Republicans
The funny thing was when I registered, the lady put down a 'D' and I
said, 'What is that "D?"' She said, 'Well, it's a Democrat.'
I said, 'I'm not a Democrat.' And she said, 'Well, you can't vote in
any of the elections.' Literally I think she believed it."
1961: Meeting Jesse
How Lee, owner and manager of WFAI in Fayetteville, introduced himself
to Helms and helped build Helms' following by airing Helms' editorials
on the radio station.
"I wanted to run editorials, but I just did not have the time.
I had taken this station over and was general manager, the sales manager,
and the chief janitor and all that stuff. I listened to Jesse for a
while. And I have got to give a lot of credit to my wife
'You ought to be carrying those.' And I said, 'I can't carry them without
"So I hopped up to Raleigh one day and introduced myself to Jesse.
I think it was '61 or '62, right after he got started, and introduced
myself to him, and said I wanted to carry his editorials. He said, 'You're
crazy. Nobody wants to carry them.' I said, 'I do.' I think from there
on other people started picking it up. I may have been the first person.
Period. He always gives me credit or blame depending on how he is feeling
at the time."
1977: The Race For Chairman
How Lee found himself tapped for the GOP chairman's post and the
goals he set for the party's growth.
"I was very happily ensconced in an advertising agency in Fayetteville.
And [Tom] Ellis called me and said, 'Will you run?' And one reason I
was interested was the fact that Jesse was coming up for re-election
in '78 and anything I could do to keep Jesse in
What I wanted
to do was go in and have everybody sit down and start talking again.
That was my No. 1 objective: to get the party back on.
"And we had another election. We had this election coming up in
'78 and I wanted to get them together. I wanted to go for getting some
more legislators. I didn't like the fact that we were down to two congressmen.
I just felt there was more potential and we needed to get out, dig our
heels in, and say, 'Let's go.' I just tried to take that positive message
all over the state.
There were a lot of Republicans who resented the [Congressional]
Club. They loved Jesse Helms, but they just did not like the club. And
it was a problem. And the club was a problem for me in the matter of
fund raising. There were a lot of people who would give to Jesse through
the club who would not give to the state party."
Realignment of Politics
How Lee says voters were attracted to the Republican Party by its
conservative stances on issues.
"I think it was the difference in philosophy. I still go to that.
That is the reason that the Democrats, and I don't think you will ever
well, I don't say ever
but a long time you are never
going to see a conservative Democrat elected in a primary statewide.
"If it's a philosophical layout between a liberal and the conservative,
the liberal is going to win every time in a statewide race in a Democratic
primary. I hate to beat on that theme, but I still think that is what
has brought these people around. You are getting Democrats now switching
over, which they would never do. We are putting on primaries."
1980: The Reagan Years
How Lee points to Ronald Reagan's two terms in the '80s as a major
factor in the Republican Party's growth.
"He was the revival of the GOP and the start of a realignment of
the GOP in which the Rockefeller Republicans had to take a back seat
because the Rockefeller Republicans weren't going to get elected. Reagan
got elected. Nixon I think was
he was a pragmatist
the best word for it. Nixon had a certain philosophical bent, but not
to the extent that Reagan had nor that Goldwater had. Goldwater paved
the way for that thing. He was the right guy at the wrong time. But
I think Reagan set the tone. And frankly George Bush blew it."