Gov. Jim Hunt, a former UNC law student, returned to his alma mater Tuesday to accept the school's first Lifetime Achievement in Public Service Award.
Hunt, who is leaving office this year after serving a historic four terms as governor, encouraged UNC students to pursue careers in public service and touted his own accomplishments.
School of Law Dean Gene Nichol said the award was created with Hunt in mind. "Frankly, we can't think of another living human who fits the description more accurately," he said.
Hunt said his experiences growing up on a farm near Wilson opened his eyes to social problems and the potential for public officials to solve them.
"I went into politics because I care about things. I remember growing up on a dirt road, where the ruts were this deep," he said, gesturing from his hand to his elbow. "Getting our road paved was a big deal."
Hunt said the principles he learned while in law school - due process, majority rule and rights of the minority - affected his thinking as governor. Hunt said his most significant accomplishments include welfare reform and education initiatives - including his support of the $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum, which passed on Election Day. "A lot of legislators were afraid to put it on the ballot," Hunt said, adding later that he encouraged state lawmakers to approve a bill calling for the referendum.
The outgoing governor received several enthusiastic ovations from the standing-room only crowd of about 300 people.
Third-year law student Paul Delamar of Pamlico County said Hunt is an excellent governor and gave a good speech.
"We had in mind he would talk about his career and the things that led him into public service, and that's exactly what he did," Delamar said. "I only regret he can't run again."
But Gary Pettis, a political science graduate student and a member of UNC's chapter of Campaign to End the Death Penalty, said he was not impressed by Hunt's speech.
"I thought it was a series of empty platitudes," Pettis said. "It was devoid of any public policy content."
Members of CEDP dominated the question-and-answer session at the end of the program, asking two of the three questions Hunt fielded.
Hunt said North Carolina's justice system is not error-ridden enough to warrant a moratorium on the death penalty, as CEDP advocates.
Despite criticism of his support of the death penalty, Hunt emphasized during his speech that he entered politics because he wanted to serve the public and encouraged students to do the same.
"You shouldn't run just to hold an office," he said. "If you don't care, don't get into this business.
"You should serve in office not to do little things but to do big things."
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