RALEIGH – When North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue rocked the political establishment January 26 by announcing her plans not to run for reelection, she made history. Since the state constitution was changed to allow Jim Hunt to seek a second term in 1980, each North Carolina governor has served eight years at a time.
In addition to making history, Perdue’s announcement will make state and national politicians do a bit more work this week than originally planned. Potential rivals for the Democratic nomination will scramble to assess their chances and, if favorable, set up campaigns. Former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory, whom Perdue narrowly defeated in 2008, will have to reshape his 2012 strategy to account for a different opponent.
Even the groups for and against same-sex marriage will have to refashion their strategies for the May 8 referendum on a proposed constitutional amendment. They were assuming that the primary date would either be a low-turnout affair or, if the Republican presidential campaign remained unsettled, attract a GOP-leaning electorate. Now the prospect of a contested Democratic primary for governor changes the calculation.
As North Carolina remains a state of manners and social graces, I submit that Perdue’s announcement should at the very least result in a series of personal notes to the governor and other players in the drama. For example:
• State and national Democrats should send a note thanking Perdue for bowing out of a governor’s race she had little chance of winning. By getting out of the way, Perdue allows state Democrats to nominate a candidate with a better chance of defeating McCrory — or at least a candidate who won’t serve as a drag on the Democratic ticket in the host state of the Democratic National Convention.
• All the North Carolina Democrats, pundits, and political activists who ridiculed state Rep. Bill Faison’s prediction that Perdue would bow out should send him a note of apology. Faison may not end up as the party’s 2012 nominee, but his willingness to say in public what many Democrats believed in private was both courageous and prescient.
• Democratic insiders ought to send a note to former UNC President Erskine Bowles promising to try to clear the field and support him for the Democratic nomination. Having run credible if not successful statewide campaigns twice, and achieved bipartisan acclaim for his work in the Clinton White House, on the Simpson-Bowles commission, and at UNC, Bowles would be strong competitor to McCrory in the fall.
• Liberal Democrats who worry that another run by the establishmentarian Bowles would damage their cause should send a note of encouragement to current Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx, recently reelected to the office that McCrory used to hold. Foxx won convincingly last fall, raised a lot of money he hasn’t yet spent, and will already be playing a prominent role at the national convention this summer. His presence on the ballot with President Obama could help push African-American turnout up towards its 2008 record, thus helping Democrats in other races.
• Other potential aspirants such as Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, Congressman Heath Shuler, former Congressman Bob Etheridge, former State Treasurer Richard Moore, and Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines should also send Perdue appreciatory notes.
• House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate leader Phil Berger should send Gov. Perdue a thank-you note for bolstering their case for fiscal conservatism. Just in the past few days, Perdue has criticized the Republicans for passing a no-tax-hike budget in 2011, then proposed a tax hike for 2012, then declined Tillis and Berger’s invitation to hold a public debate on the issue, then announced her retirement. While the timing may all be coincidental, these events give the impression that Perdue knows her position on tax and spending issues isn’t tenable.
• Finally, all my colleagues in North Carolina political journalism and punditry should send notes of gratitude to the governor for making our jobs a lot more exciting and enjoyable over the coming months.
I admit that I’ve just described a lot of work to do, and notes to write. It seems that Bev Perdue can create jobs, after all.
Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.