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How would they work with legislators?

Neither Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue nor Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory can accomplish what they have promised to do as governor without the agreement of some folks who work down the street from the Executive Mansion – members of the state legislature.

And Perdue, the Democratic candidate, and McCrory, the Republican nominee, face very different challenges in working with lawmakers.

Perdue must prove a willingness to battle old friends. McCrory, meanwhile, must demonstrate a capacity to cooperate with a legislature that is likely to be controlled by Democrats.

No problem, they both say.

“I've had a majority Democrat City Council all but two years in my 13 years as mayor,” McCrory said, “and I think we accomplished a lot.”

Before her election as lieutenant governor eight years ago, Perdue spent 14 years in the legislature. If she becomes governor, she'll be squaring off against longtime allies.

“I've never been one to worry about having to do something or needing to do something,” she said, “because of a personal relationship.”

The next governor will confront the state's weakest economy in a quarter century and a legislature that historically has played the dominant role in state government. Any budget, program or policy shift a governor champions can't move without the support of the legislature. Even governors and legislative majorities of the same party have clashed.

The candidates' track records provide a mixed bag of hints on how they'll handle the legislature.

Some episodes suggest they can defy their skeptics. Neither is a rigid ideologue. Both are pragmatic enough to work with supporters and opponents to pass crucial legislation.

There are also signs of potential trouble.

Perdue gets tagged as a disciple of Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, of Manteo, one of the most powerful figures in the state.

He appointed her in the 1990s as one of the Senate's chief budget writers. Before that, he handed her high-profile legislation such as the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, which awards grants to protect water quality.

Senate Deputy Republican Leader Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, said a protege such as Perdue as governor would give even more power to Basnight and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat.

“The one I worry about is Senator Rand,” Apodaca quipped. “I don't know if he'll have time to run both the Senate and the state on a day-to-day basis.”

Perdue has held offices that didn't allow much room for independence.

Senate Democrats generally hash out disputes privately and then move legislation as a group. As lieutenant governor, Perdue had little power other than that assigned by Gov. Mike Easley.

She displayed her independence from Basnight behind the scenes in caucus meetings, said Sen. Charlie Albertson, a Duplin County Democrat.

“I've seen her put down her foot when she needed to, when there was something she felt strong about,” he said.

Albertson and two other Democratic senators could not point to specific issues where Perdue countered Basnight. But Basnight said she pushed for a proposed cut in the food tax in the 1990s that he opposed. Her side won.

“They get there the same way that I do – being voted on by the people,” Perdue said, “but … clearly I know how to spell ‘veto.'”

McCrory would become only the third Republican governor in the past century. Veteran political analyst John Davis, former director of the business research group NCFREE, predicted last month that the GOP will take control of the Senate. Many Republicans, though, expect McCrory would face a Democratic-controlled legislature inclined to obstruct him at times.

That structural conflict could be worsened by McCrory's reputation for not always playing nice. Critics point to times when he snapped at council members, raising doubts about how he would handle a legislature run by the other party.

During a 2006 council meeting, McCrory continued to ask questions about plans to demolish a building after a unanimous vote to knock it down. Council member Michael Barnes said it was time to move to the next topic.

“Are you running this meeting?” McCrory said, raising his voice. “I'm running this meeting.”

Sen. Malcolm Graham, a Charlotte Democrat who served on the council with McCrory, said such combativeness won't transfer well to Raleigh.

What success McCrory has enjoyed in Charlotte was in a minimally partisan environment, he said.

“There's not a Democratic or Republican way to pick up the trash or police the city,” Graham said. “The General Assembly does the heavy lifting for the state. He's going to have to develop a thick skin when he comes up there.”

McCrory has presided, though, over a series of accomplishments for the city: a new NBA team, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a collection of new cultural arts facilities and the state's first light rail system.

He clashed with conservatives from his own party over light rail.

McCrory said he's learned to move past the political players on the fringes who won't work with him and form coalitions that will.

“There are times when I'm going to have to step on the toes of both the right and the left,” McCrory said. “There's a history of doing that.”

That approach fits the advice offered by former Gov. Jim Martin, the last Republican governor. Martin said he had to battle Democratic legislative leaders who tried to strip away his power to appoint various state officials. But he also brought lawmakers in for regular meetings.

“You could find out where the problems were,” Martin said, “and start working with individuals one on one.”

McCrory will have an advantage over previous Republican governors who were stymied by the legislature.

“They'll need to work with him,” Martin said. “He'll have the veto, which I didn't have.”

(Raleigh) News & Observer Staff Writer Benjamin Niolet contributed to this report.
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