Perdue going out in a blaze of barbed exchanges

Dix deal, Supreme Court plan sends GOP into retaliation mode

jfrank@newsobserver.comDecember 8, 2012 

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Gov. Beverly Perdue speaks to the media about appointing a N.C. Supreme Court Justice and the acquiring of the Dix Hospital site after attending a function at Biogen Idec, who were marking the opening of its new, 190,000-square-foot building at its RTP campus.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

It’s hard to tell the campaign season is over in North Carolina.

Consider the political discourse in the month since the election: Political TV ads. Legal battles. Backroom deals. Robo-calls to voters. And more name-calling.

“I’ve never known politics in this state, or public service in this state, to be this acidic,” Gov. Bev Perdue said recently. “I find it sad for the people of North Carolina, who expect more from their leaders ... I wonder sometimes if maybe somebody’s trying out for the Grinch in the Christmas play.”

The lame-duck Democratic governor’s recent actions helped rekindle the flame. Perdue pushed a $68 million Dix property deal to a vote with little public vetting and revealed she would revoke her own executive order on judicial appointments to pick a replacement for the N.C. Supreme Court.

Republicans reacted with focused vitriol. On the property deal, Senate leader Phil Berger suggested Perdue is a “failed” governor, who is “desperately trying to create a last-minute legacy.” The conservative group Americans for Prosperity made automated calls to voters, a common campaign tactic, using exaggerated claims to stir opposition. Meanwhile, GOP state Sen. Thom Goolsby wrote a blog about the court replacement saying, “If Governor Perdue stays on her current course, you will find her picture beside the word ‘hypocrite’ in any dictionary.”

“I think this is indicative of the continued bitterness that even elections can’t solve,” said Michael Bitzer, a political expert at Catawba College. “We’re in a constant campaign mode, even after an election.”

“It took a while, but I think we are starting to get the ripple effects out of D.C. in terms of the mentality that politicians are using,” he continued.

The war of words is more than rhetoric, political observers suggest, and it may cast a shadow on state politics in the new year, undermining Republican Gov.-elect Pat McCrory’s campaign pledge to work across party lines.

The recent actions “add fuel to the partisan fire that will affect how the McCrory administration and new General Assembly session begins,” said David McLennan at Peace University in Raleigh.

All together, recent weeks signal that the perpetual campaign typically at work in Washington is the new norm in North Carolina.

One of the first signs came a week after the election when the American Petroleum Institute, an oil and gas industry advocacy group, began airing television and radio ads aimed at U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a Democrat. The spots were designed to pressure Hagan to support the industry’s tax breaks, but many considered them campaign commercials targeted to her 2014 re-election bid.

Days later, a coalition of liberal groups and Democrats filed a legal motion to have Paul Newby, the newly re-elected Republican Supreme Court justice, recuse himself from a lawsuit challenging the new district maps, saying the groups fighting the lawsuit helped him win.

“There are winners and losers in every election, but just because you don’t like the results or how the results were achieved doesn’t warrant what’s going on right now,” said Jeanette Doran, the executive director of the conservative N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law. “There used to be this measure of Southern gentility. ... But when things get hardball, it sort of shocks the gentility.”

The language and maneuvers invigorate the fiery partisans on either side of the ledger. Democrats, for example, cheered Perdue’s controversial power moves in her final days. “This is her last hurrah,” said Democratic strategist Thomas Mills. “I applaud her for riding off with a little bit of ‘Take this.’ Would Republicans do the same thing? You bet you.”

Perdue is focused on her legacy, political observers said, and any backlash will soon be forgotten when she leaves office.

“All governors and presidents focus on their legacy as their time in office comes to an end,” said Gary Pearce, a one-time aide to former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt. “All of them want to end on a high note. They want to do something memorable.”

At the same time, experts suggest, hyper-partisanship can backfire, particularly for the Republicans now in power. It can generate apathy and disgust in the average voter, and going too far may unsettle the power-brokers’ support.

“That’s the way in which the Republicans would be stopped,” said Andy Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University, “if they really started to feel they were losing public opinion.”

Staff writer Craig Jarvis contributed to this report.

Frank: 919-829-4698

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