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SOHP Home > Media > "Excerpts - The GOP Tapes: Jack Lee"

"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 was it.

"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… She said, 'You ought to be carrying those.' And I said, 'I can't carry them without permission.'

"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 see… 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 … was 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."

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