Editorial: Perdue’s great expectations

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 10, 2009

The inauguration of North Carolina’s first female governor has been overshadowed by the history being made in Washington by President-elect Barack Obama. But that’s just fine. Beverly Perdue enters the Governor’s Mansion on the strength of her leadership, not the happenstance of her gender.
Perdue will not have to try hard to be a more visible and vocal governor than Mike Easley. His predecessor, Jim Hunt, was often out in the state boosting causes and using the bully pulpit to urge the state forward. By comparison, Easley was the phantom governor, preferring to work behind the scenes rather than in the spotlight. He backed many of the same issues as Hunt, such as education and economic development. More at 4, the state’s excellent program for at-risk preschoolers, is Easley’s baby. But his approach has been so low-key that most people would be at a loss to identify him with any government initiatives. They just remember that he crashed at Lowe’s Motor Speedway ó without serious injury, thankfully.
Perdue should strive to be neither a Jim Hunt nor a Mike Easley. She needs to be pure Bev Perdue, putting her own stamp on the office of governor. She campaigned across the state, including in Rowan County, as an advocate for improving education, creating jobs and protecting the environment. And she plans to do that, even as the economy demands attention. The downturn has delivered a half-billion-dollar shortfall to the new governor, and she faces the unenviable task of working with the General Assembly to close the gap.
She should not use the tactic of withholding funds from local government, as Easley did shortly after entering office in 2001. That just pushed the shortfall to a different level of government and multiplied the angst by 100. There is no painless way to cut expenses and ó possibly ó raise revenue to deal with the state budget. But passing the buck to other elected officials not responsible for the unbalanced budget is simply wrong.
As Perdue deals with the budget and an endless parade of issues, she can rebuild confidence in state government by operating as openly as possible ó not just as the law requires. In her inaugural speech Saturday, she promised citizens a more transparent, efficient state government “that works for them, not against them.”
Perdue said she would not allow the recession to lower her expectations for the state. She should know that the recession does not lower North Carolinians’ hopes and expectations of her, either. Her passion for the state is evident. Let’s hope she rises to the challenge and proves to be just the leader to guide the state through this difficult time.