Governor-elect Bev Perdue, to be sworn in as North Carolina's first female governor in January, is used to facing challenges. That's good, because the list of critical problems she will face as soon as she takes office may be just as unprecedented. That list includes economic difficulties, insufficient revenue to cover state services and a growing demand for reforms in an array of policy matters.
Those are among the reasons that Perdue must be aggressive about pursuing bipartisan solutions. She appears to realize that. “The future we have is not about Democrats, it's not about Republicans,” she told members of the Charlotte Chamber Thursday night. We are all North Carolinians, and we're all in this … together.”
Indeed we are, though whether there will be a universal recognition of that and a widespread commitment to solving those questions in the General Assembly is in doubt. Recent history doesn't provide much encouragement on this topic. Democrats have ruled both the House and Senate for years, and while there has been bipartisan cooperation under Speaker Joe Hackney in the House, Senate Democrats have often exercised their power to cut off debate when Republicans were attempting to offer alternatives. Whatever benefit resulted from the rapid and efficient production of a budget in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Perdue once served as an appropriations committee chair and where she presided the last eight years, was marred by the eagerness of Democrats simply to ignore Republicans.
If Perdue is now vowing that Democrats will work with Republicans, that's good, because it would mark a significant turn in the way state government is run. And it must not have escaped Perdue's attention that while a Democratic sweep was putting her and other Democrats in top offices, that political tide did nothing to advance Democratic strength in the legislature.
Cooperation between the parties and competing ideological interests could not be more timely in Raleigh. Members of both parties have worthwhile ideas about how to approach the problems we face, and the proof of the Perdue administration's early success may lie in its ability to listen to all views and select from among them the most appropriate for North Carolina's continued development. Perdue says she wants to develop a 10-point economic recovery plan, and she has already launched discussions about that initiative.
Among other issues that will need her quick attention are the state's rapidly rising unemployment rate, a ballooning increase in a projected state budget deficit and problems in funding the state employees' health plan. She'll also grapple with insufficient revenues for keeping up with demands for highways and other transportation infrastructure.
Other needs: reforming the botched mental health reforms of 2001, providing adequate health care for uninsured children, reducing the state's appalling dropout rate, addressing student performance on standardized tests and an elusive and longtime goal of many top policymakers, tax reform.
Gov. Mike Easley has wisely ordered state agencies to trim their spending on three occasions recently in an effort to soften the revenue shortfall the Perdue administration is sure to face early next year. That will help in coping with the challenges ahead, but it will only slightly ease the hard job the governor-elect faces as she begins to put together her administration. The good news is that Perdue seems not to be daunted by the task ahead. She'll need every bit of confidence – and all the bipartisan goodwill she can summon – as she prepares to face what 2009 will bring.