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Ask an Author: John Hood of Catalyst


What made you want to write about former North Carolina Governor Jim Martin?

I like to tell important and engaging stories, whether it be in my newspaper columns or in my books. There are few stories more important in state politics than that of Jim Martin, whose 26-year career in elective office and behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the Republican Party helped shape modern North Carolina. In Catalyst, I sought to tell this story to an audience that includes both longtime North Carolinians as well as relative newcomers. To do so, I had to supply a lot of background information and context.

What are some unexpected things you discovered during the research for this book?

While I know Gov. Martin and was quite familiar with the accomplishments and controversies of his two terms as governor, I knew much less about his 12 years in Congress and his six years as a local leader in Mecklenburg County during the tumultuous 1960s and early 1970s. I very much enjoyed researching and writing about his involvement in policy debates about such issues as school desegregation, the Reagan tax cuts, business deregulation, and arms control policy. Along the way, Martin interacts with many fascinating people, from Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan to Ted Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and the Ralph Nader organization.

What are some misconceptions people may have about Governor Jim Martin?

Because North Carolina politics looks quite different than it did when Jim Martin joined the fray in the mid-1960s, there is a tendency to use labels as we employ them today to describe past events and personalities where they don’t quite fit. For example, many politicos and commentators today describe Martin as a “moderate,” at least by comparison to current politicians. During his career, however, Martin preferred the term “constructive conservatism” and had a solidly conservative voting record in Congress. He was certainly a pragmatist who was willing to half a loaf rather than no loaf at all, but also had audacious dreams about transforming politics and public policy. If he were governor today, with a Republican legislature instead of a Democratic one, his priorities and proposals wouldn’t be precisely the same as they were in 1985.

What was your most memorable moment during the writing of Catalyst?

During the first of many face-to-face interviews with Jim Martin, I left with some fascinating insights, quotable quotes, ideas for people to interview and issues to research — and several pages of chemical formulas. Martin, a Princeton-trained organic chemist who taught at Davidson College before embarking on his political career, tends to approach things as a scientist and educator. During our interview, he actually used models of simple molecules and of DNA to explain political or philosophical concepts to me. As a journalism major, I just tried to keep up.

How has Governor Jim Martin influenced your role in politics?

I have long been interested in politics (unlike Jim Martin, whose interest really began during his graduate studies at Princeton). But I never aspired to run for office or serve in government. Instead, I always wanted to write, edit, and comment on politics. I’m one of those oddballs who knew pretty much what I wanted to do when I was in high school — and I’m still doing it. With that being said, however, I “came of age” politically just as Martin was running for governor. I first wrote about him for the student magazine I founded at UNC-Chapel Hill. And the first statewide news article in which I appeared was a wire story about how, as a part-time reporter at an Eastern North Carolina newspaper, I’d been assaulted by an inmate just released early because of North Carolina’s prison overcrowding. Addressing the overcrowding problem was one of Martin’s top priorities during his first term. So, yes, his public service and my interest in North Carolina politics have long been connected.

Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina RepublicansWhat are some takeaways readers will receive from Catalyst?

North Carolina is my native state. Its history inspires me, its politics fascinates me, and its future fills me with hope. One of its most consequential leaders, Jim Martin, doesn’t get as much attention as do colorful figures like Jim Hunt and Jesse Helms. Yet it can be argued that his effect on politics and government has proven to be at least as important. He and his administration played a key role in the rise of the Republican Party to parity and power in a traditionally Democratic state. I wrote this book because someone needed to tell this critical story — and because I knew that I’d learn lots of interesting things along the way. I think readers will appreciate the result.

About John Hood

John Hood is the Chairman of the Board at the John Locke Foundation, where he served as President for almost 20 years, and currently works as President of the John William Pope Foundation, a Raleigh-based grantmaker. His syndicated column appears weekly in 60 North Carolina newspapers with a combined circulation of nearly 700,000. He currently writes the “Free & Clear” column on politics and business for Business North Carolina magazine and appears weekly on the statewide talk show NC SPIN, broadcast on TV and radio stations in Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Asheville, Wilmington, Greenville, and elsewhere. He has written several commercially published books, hundreds of magazine articles, and one musical play.


Author John Hood joins Governor Jim Martin in a conversation about the legacy of his tenure. Hood's newly-released book, Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina Republicans (John F. Blair, Publisher, Oct. 6, 2015), chronicles the life and political career of Martin, North Carolina's first two-term Republican governor. Before his election to that job in 1984, Martin served 12 years in Congress and six years on the Mecklenburg County Commission.

Tomorrow, November 4, 6pm - 8:30pm. Free to attend. Includes program, book signing and light refreshments. Books will be for sale in the Museum Store. Register online: