Seventy years ago, the public was buzzing over Gov. Kerr Scott’s “Go Forward” campaign, and in particular over two referendums on the June ballot, one to increase funding for public schools, the other to increase funding for roads.
The road referendum in particular was also the focus of a fierce advertising campaign from proponents and opponents, some of which played out in the Sylva Herald.
The debate over the road bond revolved in part around the fact that the state had been building up cash reserves for some years. Some legislators didn’t want to touch the reserves, fearing that a recession might be lurking around the corner. There was a rural-urban divide on the road plan, which would focus on roads in remote areas.
The cash reserves had built up in part because of sound fiscal policies in previous administrations and a good business environment that kept tax collections high. They were also built up in part because of years of virtually all materials being devoted to the war effort meant they weren’t available for things like road construction and infrastructure.
Scott was ready to “Go Forward.” His proposals were greeting with little enthusiasm in the legislature, so he took to the bully pulpit to press the issue, delivering speech after speech on the importance of good roads for everyone.
It worked. Public pressure began to shift the mood in the legislature, and support for the referendums began to build. Scott was particularly adept at bridging the rural-urban divide, pointing out that one-third of the state’s population lived in towns and cities with good roads, and two-thirds didn’t. Scott pointed out that “what is bad for two-thirds of the people is bad for all.”
Meanwhile, the ad campaigns ramped up. One advertisement in the Herald took square aim at oil companies, saying, “North Carolina will not be deceived by the Big Oil Interests and their imported propaganda expert. If Big Oil is so concerned about the people of our State and our pocketbooks, why did they raise the price of gasoline within the last four months? The truth is obvious. They are fighting the Road Bonds because the only increase in taxes will be the 1 cent per gallon increased gasoline tax. Evidently, if there is any increasing to be done, Big Oil wants it all.”
The ad pointed out that only one-third of the roads traveled by the state’s school buses were paved.
An anti-referendum ad featured men marching, apparently angrily, to the ballot box to cast “no” votes. It asked, “do you want your tax dollars to go for interest payments instead of roads? Do you want your children to be still paying off your road debt?”
In the end, both referendums passed with large margins, especially in Jackson County. Every precinct in the county voted heavily for both issues, giving the total county vote for road bonds as 3,794 and only 393 against; 3,770 for school bonds as compared to 291 against. In some of the more remote precincts, there was no opposition to either.
The next step was to spend the money wisely, and the state did well on that front. Within a year 4,658 miles of rural roads were paved, one-third of Scott’s overall goal.
In addition, Scott prodded utilities to expand out into the country. Within a year electricity had reached 88 percent of the state’s farmers, and 83,000 new telephones had been installed.
North Carolina did indeed “Go Forward.”