Guest editorial: Perdue faces big challenges

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 6, 2008

Beverly Eaves Perdue will ascend to the topmost rung of the ladder of power she has been methodically, even relentlessly climbing for the last two decades because the people of North Carolina judged her to be a good bet to continue on the path toward better schools, more plentiful jobs, sound finances and a cleaner environment.
Besides that, a strong turnout Nov. 4 for Barack Obama didn’t hurt. Or it might have been the strong turnout for Democrat Kay Hagan, who wrested a U.S. Senate seat from Republican Elizabeth Dole and appeared to lead the party’s ticket.
In a spirited contest for the governorship with Pat McCrory, mayor of Charlotte, Perdue shrugged off accusations that she was wedded to an ineffective status quo and convinced Tar Heels that she could build on the past successes of fellow Democrats Mike Easley and Jim Hunt. Eight years as lieutenant governor, on top of a lengthy stint in the General Assembly, gave her the visibility and the expertise to make her case and become North Carolina’s first female chief executive.
McCrory became yet another Charlotte mayor who failed to move up. But the Republican who has held the mayor’s post for 14 years in a Democratic-leaning city gave Perdue all she could handle. In particular, he put her on the defensive with charges that state government was embroiled in a “culture of corruption” that he was better equipped to address than someone who has been part of the system.
Perdue ó not personally implicated in any of the scandals that gave McCrory a basis for his critique ó responded with pledges to set high ethical standards and operate with utmost transparency. She will be closely watched to see if she can follow through.
But even before she takes office, Perdue must confront dire forecasts of a budget crunch driven by the economic slump that could make her first months in office a painful exercise in lowered expectations. Her noble impulse will be to continue investment in the kind of education programs that were Easley’s and Hunt’s signature initiatives. But the reality of shrunken tax revenues will force difficult choices in many programs and could put a damper on the best of intentions.
Perdue gained strong credentials in the legislature as a budget expert; now she’ll have to take the lead in squeezing out non-essential spending and setting priorities that help those North Carolinians who most need it. Her ties to legislative leaders, her former allies, could serve her well during this process ó provided she also can establish her own agenda, not have it established for her by the titans of Jones Street.
North Carolina faces many challenges, but the moderate Democrats who have tended to control state government in recent years have done many things right. A public education system on the upswing, an attractive business climate and numerous efforts to protect the environment are among the state’s successes. Yes, Beverly Perdue has been part of the system, and for that she deserves her share of the credit for what’s gone well. Now she’ll have her chance to stake out a prominent place in the state’s history.
ó News & Observer