News and Record - Candidates for Governor Lay Out Goals
By Mark Binker
Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory makes little secret that he's unhappy with the way things run in Raleigh. In fact, the Republican talks as much about the culture and problems of the state's capital city as he does his main opponent, Democratic Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue.
"We've had five or six people basically running our government in a fashion that has been secretive, in a fashion that has been inaccessible, and sadly in a fashion in which we've had corrupt government," McCrory said during an interview with the News & Record's editorial board this week.
Would he count Perdue among those five or six people?
"Yes, absolutely," he said.
In a year when presidential and U.S. Senate candidates are talking about the need to change Washington, would-be state-level leaders are applying that rhetoric to Raleigh.
Perdue is serving the end of her second term as the state's No. 2 elected official and was a powerful state senator before that. So McCrory says it would be hard to imagine that she's not among the core group of leaders who have set the direction for the state.
"If she hasn't, I'd ask 'Why not?' But I think she clearly gives the impression that she has been by her role in health and her role in other areas. And if there are certain areas where she hasn't been, she should have been. She should have been either trying to change this leadership, change this culture, or playing a role in it."
McCrory's strategy takes advantage of missteps in state government during the past three years, including the conviction of former House Speaker Jim Black on corruption charges and outrage over high-priced taxpayer-funded trips abroad taken by Gov. Mike Easley and his wife.
But Perdue says that drawing those links is unfair.
"What he's saying is the fact that the current administration has had a plethora of issues and the fact that the former speaker of the House went to jail paints me with the same brush, he's trying to put me part and parcel with Easley," Perdue said. "I don't mind taking a hit when it's legitimate and true, but this just ain't true."
Of Easley, Perdue said, "I was not part of his inner circle and never wanted to be."
In fairness, the lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor.
Other than taking over in case of emergency and presiding over the Senate, the occupant of the office has little power or responsibility not given by others.
Perdue says her work has been distinct from the administration, pointing out that she is not a member of the cabinet.
"The truth is, I came to Raleigh with my own set of values," Perdue said.
Whatever their difference, Perdue and McCrory are much of the same mold, according to Duke political science professor Mike Munger, who is running as a Libertarian. Munger, who polls show winning about 5 percent support, acknowledges his chances to win this year aren't great.
"I only need 2 percent to win," Munger said, referring to state ballot access laws that will keep his party on the ballot and from having to pursue a signature drive. That in turn would let Libertarians build their organization for 2010 and beyond.
But Munger does aim to push and pull the conversation between the two leading candidates and point out where they do not offer voters a choice. For example, McCrory and Perdue favor the death penalty, while Munger opposes it.
What Munger doesn't offer is a background as a politician, although he has served as an adviser to governments.
"There's no question, if you're interested in traditional sorts of government and continuing along the same course, their experience is better than mine. If you're interested in change, then I have some of that to offer," Munger said, calling himself "an incrementalist" who would try to prod the state into different directions. "My goal is to try to reduce some of the bad things and increase some of the good things that government does."
By contrast, Perdue and McCrory are much more sweeping in their rhetoric.
"This is beyond just the stance of where we stand on the issues," McCrory said. "It is who is the best-qualified leader to lead this state, who can develop the vision for the future, who can implement that vision, who can form coalitions to make it happen and who can change this culture of state government, which has currently not been ethical, and which has not been approachable."
In campaign appearances, McCrory talks up the fact he has been elected seven times as the mayor of Charlotte and his efforts to push a light rail system there. He also recounts what he said has been the frustrating experience of asking the state government for help, particularly in dealing with gang-related issues.
"I am the one person in this race who has got that successful track record of leadership, of implementing plans that we might not see the results for many years," McCrory said.
For her part, Perdue points to her work in helping to keep North Carolina military bases open during the last round of federal base closings and realignments.
"The thing I'm proudest of all is the way teen smoking rates have come down," Perdue said, referring to a push by her office to eliminate smoking for public school campuses across the state. She also touts the creation of virtual high schools.
"I'm a hands-on leader. I'm 180 percent different from Gov. Easley, and I actually tell Gov. (Jim) Hunt I'm going to be a harder worker and a better governor than he was," Perdue said.