Outgoing Perdue defends how she governed NC
Posted December 27, 2012
RALEIGH, N.C. — Outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday that she doesn't regret declining to seek re-election and pushing for higher taxes to close budget gaps and restore education funding. She argued she's leaving the state in a better position compared to four years ago and didn't worry about political consequences.
Perdue said her only regret is the timing of her election as North Carolina's first female governor. She came into office in 2009 facing a $4 billion budget shortfall and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
"I went to bed one night and looked in the mirror and made a promise I would do not one thing to harm North Carolina, that every single decision I made would be in the best interest of the state, to leave her better than I found her," she said. "I think I'm doing that, so I feel like I've done a really good job."
Republicans capitalized on decisions Perdue and fellow Democrats made in 2009 to raise sales and income taxes to help close budget gaps. Republicans gained majorities in the state House and Senate in the 2010 elections by criticizing the sales tax in the campaign, setting themselves up for the next decade through redistricting.
Perdue announced this past January she wouldn't run for another four years, marking the first time a governor didn't run or win a second term after receiving the right to do so with a 1977 constitutional amendment. She said then that she didn't want her proposal to raise the state sales tax to close GOP education spending reductions to become politicized in a campaign.
At the time, she also faced low approval numbers and scrutiny about campaign flights that weren't reported in a timely manner. Some former campaign aides and donors were charged with crimes in the case.
On Thursday, she said she could have won a second term if she had run but is satisfied with her decision to step aside.
"You do all that you can do and get it done and do it well, and then you move on," she said. "I had spent four years standing up and making really tough decisions that had tremendous impact on my family and on me."
Republican Pat McCrory won easily in November, completing the GOP's control of executive and legislative branches for the first time in 140 years. He will be sworn in Jan. 5.
Perdue said the additional taxes she signed into law in 2009 and 2010 tempered the extremity of the recession and likely prevented the unemployment rate from going higher than the 11 percent it once reached. Republicans counter that the higher taxes and fiscal irresponsibility by Perdue and other Democrats slowed the state's recovery. The unemployment rate is now 9.1 percent.
The relationship between the Democratic governor and the new Republican leadership in the General Assembly has been rocky. She vetoed 19 of their bills, and they overrode most of her vetoes. They've traded some pretty sharp zingers, but she said they have worked together pretty well behind the scenes.
"You know, I sometimes wonder if some of the leaders even see the statements that are released in their names. I really do," she said. "I don't believe it's been as rancorous and cantankerous as many would like it to be."
A former Craven County state legislator and then lieutenant governor from 2001 to 2009, Perdue said she wouldn't label herself a victim of the bad economy. But she said there was never enough money available to implement any marquee education initiative, like predecessors were able to do.
Instead, the governor argued, she made "modest" investments in education and economic development that paid off with more jobs and educational opportunities. She plans to spend her last days in office visiting preschools benefiting from her decision to spend more on free pre-kindergarten for at-risk children following a court decision.
"That kid's life is going to be changed by that opportunity," she said.
She's pleased that North Carolina never lost under her tenure its premium triple-A bond rating. She said she's also proud of her efforts to depoliticize road-building decisions, overhaul the state probation and parole system and clean up the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
"For the most part, state government is behaving different than when I took office," she said.
She has a few matters still to settle, including whether to grant pardons of innocence to the Wilmington 10 civil rights activists whose convictions were overturned two decades ago because of prosecutorial misconduct and perjured testimony. More than 140,000 people nationwide have signed petitions for them.
"There's nobody in America – I don't believe there's anybody in the judicial system in the world – who could say that trial was fair or that there wasn't some kind of undercurrent or overt racism involved in the jury selection," she said. "I don't know if that necessarily makes them innocent. I don't know that, but I do know it's weighed heavily on my heart."
She said she would make a decision next week on the pardons.
Perdue, who turns 66 on Jan. 14, said she expects to be part of a foundation that emphasizes education and technology after leaving office and will work further in education, but didn't give further details. She also said she plans to start a business of some kind but needs more time to hash out its purpose. It won't involve lobbying, she said, but she also talked Thursday about how much she enjoyed promoting the state.
"I knew I loved the state and I was good at bragging on her, but I'm a great deal-closer and I'm going to be part of something," she said.