Perdue holding head high in exit from governor's office
Outgoing Gov. Beverly Perdue said Thursday 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.
"I committed myself to do nothing that wouldn't be good for North Carolina, regardless of the political fallout for me," she told The Associated Press in an interview at the old Capitol building.
The Democrat entered office in January 2009 at the height of the Great Recession and spent the next four years trying to get out from under fiscal uncertainty that has improved incrementally.
Republicans capitalized on decisions Perdue and fellow Democrats made in 2009 to raise sales and income taxes to help close multibillion-dollar 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. 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'll get sworn in Jan. 5
North Carolina's first female chief executive already was facing low approval numbers that fellow Democrats fear would drag them down with her in a battleground state for President Barack Obama. She also faced scrutiny at the time about her winning 2008 campaign and flights that she didn't initially report. Some former campaign aides and donors were charged with crimes.
She said 11 months ago she wouldn't run in an expected rematch from 2008 with McCrory because she didn't want her new proposal to raise the state sales tax to close GOP education spending reductions to become politicized in a campaign. But she said Thursday she still believed "I could have won had I run."
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 to go even higher than the 11.2 percent it reached in early 2010. 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.
Perdue, a former Craven County state legislator and then lieutenant governor from 2001 to 2009, 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 Highway Patrol.
"For the most part, state government is behaving different than when I took office," she said.
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 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.