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Catalyst: Jim Martin and the Rise of North Carolina Republicans

John Hood

John F. Blair, Publisher
$28.95 hardcover
6 x 9  
352 pages
October 2015

In 1985, newly elected North Carolina governor Jim Martin met with Tennessee governor Lamar Alexander, U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and six other Republican leaders to map out a strategy for making the GOP competitive in state and local elections, particularly in the South. That the strategy this group developed has succeeded shows Martin’s under-appreciated role as a catalyst for political change in North Carolina and beyond.

This book 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. He began his professional career as a professor of chemistry at Davidson College. During his long political career, Martin often led the way in showing his fellow Republicans that political pragmatism could work hand-in-hand with fiscal conservatism. Along the way, his career has intersected with such notable figures as Richard Nixon, Jesse Helms, Jim Hunt, Ralph Nader, Ronald Reagan and Elizabeth Dole.

In Catalyst, we follow Martin from his days in the 1960s as chairman of the first Republican-majority commission in North Carolina’s most-populous county to his 2012 role in investigating scandals at the University of North Carolina.


“In this assiduously researched and wonderfully written biography, John Hood demonstrates that Jim Martin shaped public life in North Carolina as much as did Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. To read this book is not only to know a remarkably important and talented man, but to understand the past half-century of the state’s politics.”

 —Andy Taylor, professor of political science at NC State University and author of Elephant’s Edge: The Republicans as a Ruling Party

“Jim Martin has never gotten his due for the leadership and contributions he made to our state. In Catalyst, John Hood tells the story of how a tuba-playing chemistry professor transformed into a county commissioner, congressman, governor, and statesman. I was always an admirer of James Grubb Martin, but more especially after reading Catalyst.”

 —Tom Campbell, former assistant state treasurer and moderator of the statewide TV show NC SPIN

 "The rise of the Republican Party in the South is one of the great political developments of the 20th century. In Catalyst, John Hood tells how Jim Martin built the party in our ninth-largest state, North Carolina.”
—Michael Barone, coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics and Fox News contributor

 "Even the most seasoned observers of North Carolina politics will find new information in this book. John Hood’s biography of Jim Martin also sheds light on the evolution of modern North Carolina politics. People of varying political persuasions will find this a good read.”

 —Tom Eamon, author of The Making of a Southern Democracy

“In Catalyst, John Hood, through good legwork and interviews with top politicians of both parties, briskly tracks Jim Martin’s ascent. Hood shows how Martin, perhaps more than anyone else, is responsible for the rise of Republicans in North Carolina.”

 —John Drescher, executive editor at the Raleigh News & Observer and author of Triumph of Good Will: How Terry Sanford Beat a Champion of Segregation and Reshaped the South