SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Erskine Bowles: Dream Candidate for UNC Job

By: - August 15, 2005 5:47 am

Southern Pines Pilot 

You’ve got to think that most of the potential candidates to replace Molly Broad as the University of North Carolina’s system president have already been scared off.

When the chief competition once served as the top administrator for the United States government, well, you better have your ducks in a row. When he has wealth, extensive business contacts and deep North Carolina roots, perhaps you should have a second option lined up.

Erskine Bowles — Charlotte investment banker, former Clinton White House chief of staff, unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate — has clearly emerged as the front-runner to become the next UNC system president.

He has the backing of state Senate leader Marc Basnight. He has been endorsed by former UNC system president Bill Friday. He is a good friend of House Speaker Jim Black. Even legislative Republicans are touting the Democrat for the post.

Most important, he wants the job.

Bowles, who just celebrated his 60th birthday, could easily spend the remaining years of his working life earning big bucks as an investment banker. Or he and his wife enjoy the kind of wealth that would allow them to live an early-retirement dream life that most of us can only imagine.

After twice being rejected by North Carolina voters, losing Senate races to Republicans Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr, Bowles could understandably take either course.

Except for one thing: Deep in his psyche, Bowles harbors a strong urge to leave a lasting mark on public life in his native state.

On Election Night last November, Bowles remarked, “Elected office will not be my route, but that does not mean you have seen the last of Erskine Bowles.”

Perhaps those election losses, and that of his father, Harlan “Skipper” Bowles, who lost to Republican Jim Holshouser in the 1972 gubernatorial race, have only strengthened that resolve.

Whatever drives the man, North Carolinians would be the clear winners if Bowles gets the job.

A UNC-Chapel Hill graduate, he has a proven track record as a capable administrator who is able to bridge political differences. His business contacts would prove invaluable. His wealth would prevent the position’s salary from becoming an issue during the hiring process.

And while an academic background is imperative for the chancellors at the 16 UNC campuses, administrative and political skills are far more important for the system president.

Right now, as UNC administrators struggle to weigh the state’s historic commitment to low tuition against a hue and cry for added resources to keep the schools academically competitive, adept political and administrative skills have never been more needed.

Of course, the UNC Board of Governors will continue to go through the normal hiring process of identifying and interviewing candidates, as well it should.

But as long as Bowles is in the running, the board shouldn’t settle for less and can hardly hope for more.

Scott Mooneyham writes for the Captiol Press Association.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066