Perdue's legacy: A battle from the start

Economic woes, tough opposition

jmorrill@charlotteobserver.comJanuary 27, 2012 

She'll go down in history as North Carolina's first female governor, an advocate for public schools who fought for her principles against the first Republican-dominated legislature in more than a century.

Democrat Bev Perdue also will be the first one-term governor in more than three decades, her term dogged by record budget shortfalls, a lousy economy and miserable poll numbers.

"She achieved her dreams of being governor at the worst possible time, the worst economy in generations and a legislature hostile to her view of the world," said Chris Fitzsimon, executive director of the liberal N.C. Policy Watch.

A native of New Bern, Perdue, 65, was a teacher and geriatric health care consultant before entering politics. She served in the House and Senate before being elected lieutenant governor in 2000.

Perdue came to the governor's office in 2009. She faced trouble from the start.

A sagging economy had left the state facing a record $3 billion shortfall, 10 percent of the budget. She eventually signed a budget that included more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money and a higher state sales tax.

"Gov. Perdue will leave office with a reputation as a good governor who managed this state through a difficult time," said House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange.

But hard choices amid high unemployment took their toll. By July 2009, her approval had plummeted to 25 percent, according to Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm.

"Perdue tried too hard to please all sides during that critical early period of her tenure, and as a result just antagonized everybody," said pollster Tom Jensen.

By late 2009, Republicans charged that Perdue's campaign should be investigated for questionable airplane travel. The charges drew headlines reminiscent of those surrounding an investigation of former Gov. Mike Easley, who later pleaded guilty to a felony count of campaign violations.

The economy continued to struggle into 2010. That fall, voters elected the first Republican-led General Assembly in more than a century. Last year, faced with a legislature that sought to cut spending and make far-reaching changes in state policy, she found herself playing defense.

Last year alone she vetoed 16 bills. Since N.C. governors first got the veto in the mid-90s, only 10 other bills had been vetoed.

"It's really two different governorships, and the break is the 2010 elections," said John Dinan, a political scientist at Wake Forest University.

"The first part of that she was able to get the temporary tax increases in and staved off more significant reductions in school spending," he added. "After the 2010 elections, it's been a blocking role, kind of a confrontation with the legislature."

Last fall, three Perdue campaign aides were indicted by a Wake County grand jury for campaign violations. Though prosecutors said Perdue was not involved, the indictments raised comparisons to the legal troubles of Easley.

Now a lame duck, Perdue has one more year to complete her legacy.

Morrill: 704-358-5059

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