It's past time North Carolina had a woman in the governor's mansion, and the state's voters ought to take pride in having shattered that glass ceiling Tuesday by electing Democrat Bev Perdue. That's a significant milestone.
Yet for Charlotte the outcome of this gubernatorial contest is a bittersweet moment. Perdue's narrow victory came against Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, who ran a strong campaign that urged fundamental reforms in state government. A win for McCrory, a Republican, would have put a primarily urban perspective in the governor's mansion for the first time and sent an outsider to Raleigh. It also would have dispelled the myth of the Charlotte curse – the consistent failure by candidates from the state's largest city to get elected to statewide offices.
Instead, voters opted for Perdue's seasoning, with 14 years in the N.C. General Assembly and eight as lieutenant governor. She's a capable politician with a deep grasp of the role public education plays in the state's future prosperity. Yet her independence is relatively untested, and she will confront the weakest state economy in a quarter century.
Perdue must demonstrate the core principles she intends to use to govern North Carolina. Those principles, beyond a strongly stated support for public education, were not readily apparent during the campaign. She has billed herself as a progressive who works for measures of broad benefit, such as access to education for all citizens and for protecting North Carolina's environmental resources. Yet during the campaign, she used her seat on the N.C. Community College Board to orchestrate a vote that rejected letting undocumented residents enroll so long as they pay higher, out-of-state costs. And she reversed her position on oil exploration by supporting exploratory drilling off the N.C. coast. Those contradictions represent a high hurdle for a new governor seeking public confidence in her policies.
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Perdue, from Eastern North Carolina, must reach out quickly to the areas of the state where her support was not strong. She knows rural areas of the state well, yet more people in this state now live in its urban centers, such as Charlotte. Perdue must demonstrate she understands the scale and urgency of urban needs and is prepared to deliver meaningful changes, such as reforms in how the state pays for, plans and oversees transportation.
Perdue must demonstrate an independence from her old friends in the Democratic-controlled legislature, including powerful Senate President Pro tem Marc Basnight of Manteo and his go-to Sen. Tony Rand of Fayetteville. Perdue has been a disciple of Basnight. Yet the reforms needed in North Carolina and the decisions forced by the state's weak economy demand an independent governor – one who is both able to persuade key players to get on board and stand up to powerful former allies.