RALEIGH – Any governor of North Carolina seeking reelection after four years of lackluster economic performance and high unemployment would face long odds. Given that reality, you’d think that Gov. Bev Perdue would be looking for ways to get back in the good graces of North Carolina voters.
Instead, she and her campaign team seem bound and determined to take a bad political situation and make it worse.
After Republicans won control of the state legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, Perdue chose to work with the new GOP leaders on some issues and pick fights with them on others. So far, so good. But the issues she chose to fight on made no political sense.
For example, the Perdue administration proposed a fairly conservative budget, cutting state expenditures 4 percent below the baseline, then screamed bloody murder about a competing Republican proposal to cut spending 6 percent below the baseline. The difference between the two budgets essentially came down to a one-cent sales tax Perdue supported in 2009 as a “temporary” measure. The governor wanted the expiring tax reimposed. A bipartisan group of Republican and Democratic legislators didn’t. They won.
So Perdue got little credit from the Left for protecting state programs in her initial budget, then turned off swing voters by advocating a tax increase. It would have been smarter to make a deal with the Republicans, trade the tax hike for some concessions elsewhere, sign the budget, and move on to more favorable issues.
Instead, the governor can’t seem to move on. She’s now proposing that the legislature put most of the sales-tax hike back into the tax code this summer for the 2012-13 fiscal year.
Perdue’s blunders haven’t been limited to fiscal policy. She used her veto pen to come out against a photo ID requirement for voting, against the idea of exploring for oil and natural gas resources, and against capital punishment. In each case, she’s on one side and most voters are on the other side. Perhaps her vetoes reflect deeply felt personal convictions, but even so it makes little sense to harp on them as much as she does. Every time she restates her opposition to these popular causes, she makes her reelection effort that much harder.
I don’t want to be mean about this, but previous Democratic governors would probably not have gotten themselves into such a predicament. Jim Hunt, for instance, would have selected some of the new Republican legislature’s tax, regulatory, or education polices that he could stomach and then held a press conference to announce his support. Over the ensuing months, voters would have come to identify Hunt with what had previously been Republican proposals. He’d have gotten credit for the popular ones while eschewing the unpopular ones (Hunt actually did some of this right after Republicans took the North Carolina House in 1994, by the way, so I’m not talking theory here).
Mike Easley might not have been so nimble in his legislative strategy, but he would still have found a way to survive the GOP takeover of the legislature and pick good fights on winning issues. Easley can be a charming guy. After all, he’s about to get his law license back despite the fact that he’s a convicted felon.
Perdue is an experienced lawmaker and successful politician, but for whatever reason she lacks the skills, judgment, and advice necessary to craft a realistic path to reelection. Perhaps President Obama’s 2012 organization in North Carolina will be strong enough to bring her along for the ride, as it did in 2008.
She’ll need it.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.