Election: Governor: Bev Perdue hopes to make history
By Gary D. Robertson
Beverly Perdue, daughter of parents who didn’t finish high school, is today one election away from becoming the state’s first female governor.
“I’m all about breaking down glass ceilings,” Perdue said at a campaign stop. “I’m all about breaking down the status quo.”
Following a Democratic primary win over State Treasurer Richard Moore in May, Lieutenant Governor Perdue became the immediate favorite, ready to extend her party’s 16-year control of the Executive Mansion.
Republican and longtime Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory has made the race competitive, in part by stressing that it’s Perdue ó the one-time outsider who now has a lengthy political resume ó who embodies the status quo.
Perdue, 61, is quick to de-emphasize her own chance at history because after seven terms in the Legislature and eight years as lieutenant governor, she’s feels it matters little when it comes to winning elections.
“I think people just want somebody that they really believe can bring us together enough to push the state forward and make a difference. I really believe that,” Perdue said.
“I think we’ll make tremendous accomplishments because I am so driven, (but) I think that because I am the first woman the standard’s higher.”
Perdue has spent the past year focused on attracting voters to her ideas, detailed in a 44-page book entitled “Building a New North Carolina.” She proposes:
– Two years of free community college tuition.
– Health insurance for the state’s 250,000 uninsured children.
– Job creation in the state’s green economy and small towns.
Beverly Moore grew up in rural southwest Virginia, the daughter of a coal miner who went on to became a successful mine owner. Divorced in the 1990s, she is now remarried to businessman Bob Eaves. They met while serving together on the advisory board at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“I’m old enough to be one of those women that could remember when I was a young girl, folks telling me you don’t need to graduate high school, you don’t need to go to college,” Perdue said. She credits Mrs. Beck, her seventh-grade teacher, with telling her she could be something more.
Perdue attended the University of Kentucky and later the University of Florida, where she earned a doctorate in administration in 1976. At Florida, she was a graduate assistant to professor Harold Stahmer, helping him start the university’s Center for Gerontology Studies and Programs.
Perdue moved to North Carolina after visiting her brother while he was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. She settled in New Bern, ultimately becoming the geriatric services director at Craven County Hospital.
After getting involved in county Democratic politics, Perdue decided to take the plunge for elected office after watching a local senator get state funding for a grant designed to help older people live at home longer. She won a House seat in 1986 and got elected to the Senate in 1990.
Health, aging expert
“I’ve never seen anyone that could work on so many broad issues while at the same time dealing with the local and taking care of her individual constituents,” said former Democratic Sen. Fountain Odom, who was an appropriations committee co-chairman with Perdue in the late 1990s.
Perdue’s reputation as an expert on aging and health issues, along with her saccharin voice, made it easy for legislative colleagues to call her “Dumplin.” But she evolved into a steely politician, learning how to build coalitions and pass legislation, and rose through the ranks to become one of the Legislature’s most powerful leaders.
“You can see that Bev could get to the wall and push back,” said Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who with Perdue was one of a record seven women in the Senate during the 1993-94 session. “She was willing to give and accommodate up to a line. But you would know when that line had been reached.”
By 1995, Senate leader Marc Basnight chose Perdue to be one of the co-chairs of the Senate Appropriations Committee ó ignoring the complaints of some who felt she wasn’t ready for the job. She made believers out of her many detractors, becoming the chief booster of the policies of then-Gov. Jim Hunt during a period when Republicans had taken over the House for the first time during the 20th century.
“She played a powerful role,” Hunt said, pointing to Perdue’s support of his Smart Start early childhood initiative as well as the 1997 Excellent Schools Act, which ultimately raised teacher salaries by 35 percent over a four-year period. “She’s the person that got that bill through.”
As lt. governor
Perdue has spent the last eight years as lieutenant governor, serving in a job with few inherent powers and turning it into a platform to reduce teenage smoking, protect the state’s military bases and build an online high school.
As she moved into her campaign for the state’s top job, she has tried to distance herself from outgoing Democratic Gov. Mike Easley ó the two never had a close working relationship ó and the problems that have surfaced under his watch of state government.
Her own time in office hasn’t been without controversy. In the late 1990s, Perdue was one of four elected officials who returned illegal campaign contributions given by a former rest home operator who pleaded guilty to several campaign finance counts. Prosecutors said there was no evidence Perdue knew the $19,000 in contributions were illegal when she received them.
This year, while in the midst of unveiling reform proposals for the Department of Transportation, Perdue had to deal with the news that two transportation board members who resigned under ethical clouds were significant fundraisers for her gubernatorial bid.
“I think that her entire political career has been based on flip-flops,” former House Speaker Joe Mavretic, a Democrat, said on a radio show in August. Perdue declined to support him in a celebrated 1989 ouster of Democratic Speaker Liston Ramsey. “Bev Perdue, in my personal opinion, is a person whose word you cannot trust.”
Perdue is undeterred by such criticism ó or much else. At a recent campaign event in Salisbury, she almost fell while climbing atop a metal folding chair in her stocking feet so that supporters on the far side of the room could see her. She stayed on and continued to explain what she called the stark differences between her and McCrory on public education and health care.
“Tell your friends you listened to her,” she joked with supporters later at the Frame Gallery & Gifts store in downtown Statesville. “Tell ’em you drank a little bit of the Bev Kool Aid.”
On the Internet: www.bevperdue.com