10/19/08 — Meet the gubernatorial candidates: Bev Perdue

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Meet the gubernatorial candidates: Bev Perdue

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 19, 2008 3:00 AM

Despite having been a part of Gov. Mike Easley's administration, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue is making it clear that she's going to bring a different attitude to the office if elected in November.

"I think the office of governor is defined by the person who holds it," she said. "It'll be very different if I'm in charge."

And she'll begin, she said, by making state government more open and accessible.

"I'm going to be a different kind of governor," she said, promising to get out of Raleigh and to spend time working in cities like Goldsboro, Greenville and New Bern. "I'm going to go into these places and talk to people."

She also plans to hold regular, live, televised town hall meetings, and to create an online town hall forum in order to further "continue two-way conversation" with state residents.

Even e-mails and government contracts, she said, will be more open to residents.

"This kind of accessibility is key. My office is 100 percent transparent," she said, promising to make state government the same if elected. "I will do anything you can tell me I need to do, other than put in danger any confidential economic development deal, and then I will require that (everything) that was discussed be open to you (after it's over)."

Mrs. Perdue also said she will be a different kind of governor in terms of how she manages the state's various departments, making unannounced visits and conducting monthly performance reviews.

"I'm an on-site kind of manager. I'm going to be a CEO-kind of governor," she said, beginning with the mental health system.

"Had I been the governor, had Cherry Hospital happened on my watch, I would have been down here," she said. "I would have been angry, and fired, in all probability, the manager of Cherry Hospital.

"Leaving a person unattended in a chair (for 22 hours) ... I would have really worked with the Wayne County district attorney to prosecute that person (responsible)."

Also unacceptable, she said, were the reports about the working conditions and lack of morale at the hospital.

"We have to do all we can to make sure the hard-working employees feel like we appreciate them," she said.

Ethics reform is another area in which Mrs. Perdue has promised change and more efforts that focus on cleaning up Raleigh and the scandals that littered the political landscape in 2007 and 2008 with such names as former Speaker of the House Jim Black, former Rep. Thomas Wright and others.

"I'm going to have in place a really high standard for ethical behavior," she said, explaining that she thinks it's important that people believe their elected officials are holding their offices with "integrity and respect."

And, she added, it's not an issue that she's been silent on.

She said that she did speak out publicly against former Agriculture Secretary Meg Scott Phipps, as well as Black and Wright, and that she has a personal motivation for attacking and preventing those problems from continuing.

"I spoke to Jim Black himself (several months before he was convicted) ... and he told me he didn't do anything wrong," she said. "I will not get over that."

So now, she hopes to "go way beyond" the legislation already passed, to further strengthen the state's Ethics Commission and to make sure legislators, their staffers, those who work in the executive branch and lobbyists better know and understand what's expected of them.

Another effort she says she wants to work on is the establishment of a North Carolina Endowment for Positive Gubernatorial Campaigns that would raise money from individuals, businesses and community groups to fund gubernatorial candidates who pledge to run positive campaigns.

Additionally, she also says she wants to overhaul the state Department of Trans-portation's board of directors, making it more of a planning and advisory commission, not one that votes on individual projects that the members may have a financial interest in.

In terms of education, Mrs. Perdue pledged to continue to support pre-kindergarten programs like Smart Start and More at Four, as well as high school programs like Learn and Earn and the community colleges.

She also promised to continue to hold teachers and schools accountable for student achievement, adding that as governor, if there was a school that was failing and unable to right itself, she wouldn't hesitate to "take that school over."

Because, she explained, while she understands the problems facing schools like Goldsboro High, which she visited with the state Board of Public Instruction several years ago during the height of its problems, her goal is for "every school in the state to have high expectations for their kids."

To her, that means continuing to push the college prep track, even as vocational education is receiving more and more attention from local leaders, because regardless of which students choose, she explained, to be successful and competitive, they will still need to learn skills like basic math, reading, writing and critical thinking.

But to help schools teach those things successfully, she said new ways of funding county school systems are likely to be necessary, including, potentially, private/public partnerships for facility construction and additional revenue streams like land transfer and sales taxes.

"There are good tools out there," she said. "I think the local governments should have some choices, and they shouldn't have to come to Raleigh to get them."

Another issue close to Mrs. Perdue's heart is the continued viability of the state's bases -- something she has campaigned hard on, citing her leadership during the Base Realignment and Closure process, even as she has emphasized that it was a "partnership," and that she's "never taken sole credit" for the state's successes.

Her goal, she said, is to continue the tradition of "North Carolina being the most military friendly state in the nation," and to make those efforts on the "front end," not on the "back end" as has been done in the past.

That means, she explained, working with Washington and finding out what the BRAC Commission wants, even before the next one is organized -- doing things like continuing to update policies to allow dependents to more easily transfer education credits from state to state, and to allow an easier business certification process for military spouses.

She also praised Goldsboro and Wayne County for their work creating a protective zone around Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, calling it a model for other communities to follow and crediting it among the efforts that helped add several thousand new jobs across the state, including 300 at Seymour Johnson.

"I believe at the end of the day, we (North Carolina) had the most significant wins of any state," she said.

And now she wants to focus on expanding the state's economic infrastructure to help support the bases by increasing its defense industries.

"I'm working as aggressively as I ever have to grow a military and defense sector," she said.

Among her efforts, she explained, has been the creation of the independent N.C. Military Foundation to promote the state, her pressure of the state's Commerce Department to be more pro-active in recruiting military industries across the state, and working with the federal Department of Defense to find ways to bring more contracts to small companies already in North Carolina.

And finally, Mrs. Perdue is hoping to bring improvements to the state budget process, beginning with the creation of a citizen panel to develop 10 reform measures for the Legislature to vote up or down.

Likening it to Easley's efficiency commissions, she explained that the main difference will be that legislators will be forced to consider the proposals, rather than simply being allowed to ignore them.

By going through such a process, and by posting state contract information online, Mrs. Perdue said she believes she can save millions of dollars every year.

Add to that the availability of more than $800 million in the state's rainy day fund next year and the 2 percent budget cuts recently enacted by Easley, and she's hopeful that taxes will not have to be raised.

"I hope not. I don't believe so," she said. "I've never done that, and I don't believe this is the time."

But, she acknowledged that it might also not be the time to be implementing new programs, like increasing technology in schools, or building new buildings, like those approved in this year's budget.

"All those (new programs) can wait," she said. "My goal is for North Carolina to be strong and healthy."

Most importantly, though, she believes that the current economic downturn will allow the state to transform the way it does business, and that she is the governor to lead it through these times -- much like 1930s governor Max Gardner did during part of the Great Depression.

"I think it gives us a tremendous opportunity," she said -- even if it's an opportunity she didn't know she would have when she first decided to run in 2005.

"It's been an interesting three years," she said. "I was encouraged to do it a long time ago.

"For a long time I have been bold enough to stand up to the power structure and force my way to the table. But, I don't give a tinker's damn (about being the first woman governor) -- maybe as a good role model ... I just want the state to be successful ... they don't even have to know my name."