Local Politics

Perdue gets mixed reviews after first six months

Posted July 9, 2009 5:22 p.m. EDT
Updated July 9, 2009 7:05 p.m. EDT

— Economic troubles and a tight budget have made the first six months of Gov. Beverly Perdue's administration difficult, but observers say it hasn't been all bad.

Perdue, the state's first female governor, gets high marks from veterans of Raleigh's political scene for accessibility. She has followed through with promises to make regular public appearances, retain government e-mail and improve transparency.

"I think the strongest part of her performance is setting a different tone," Democratic strategist Gary Pearce said.

Lobbyist Theresa Kostrzewa said visibility is what separates Perdue from her predecessor, former Gov. Mike Easley.

"She publishes her schedule every single day, so anyone in North Carolina can know what she's doing at any given moment," Kostrzewa said.

Yet, the budget and the economy have defined the early months of Perdue's tenure.

She came into office in January promising to protect public education amid growing budget problems. Lawmakers' plans to cut teaching positions and her own across-the-board pay cut for state workers have jeopardized that promise.

"This is the absolute worst time for any elected leader," Kostrzewa said.

Perdue has tried to spare education from deep budget cuts by urging lawmakers to raise at least $1 billion in additional revenue during the 2009-10 fiscal year. Unsatisfied with their efforts, she unveiled a plan this week to raise $1.6 billion, primarily by raising the state sales tax rate by a penny for the next year.

Lawmakers and state Republican leaders have roundly criticized the plan, and recent public opinion polls show her approval rating is in the 30 percent range.

"This is ludicrous," state GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer said. "We've seen this movie before. We don't need to sit in the theater till the end of the day."

Pearce said the economic challenges have left Perdue with little choice but to try to right the state and ride out the storm.

"You've got to keep in mind, she took over the ship in the middle of a hurricane," he said. "You're in a bad budget. You're the commander of the ship. You're going to take some of the flak."

Observers said Perdue needs to put aside her experience as a legislator and tap into leadership intangibles to find a way to rebuild confidence and win back public support.

"Lead people to believe we're going to get through this," Kostrzewa said.

Perdue said she's up to the challenge.

"I believe we're doing incredibly well in a very challenging economy," she said.

The best thing the governor has going for her right now, Pearce said, is that the 2012 election is more than three years away.

"She simply needs to be stronger, clearer, more resolute," he said.