by Bob Geary
Governor-elect Bev Perdue evokes "limited passion" from progressive folks, says N.C. Policy Watch's Rob Schofield. They've seen her artfully advance herself over 20-plus years, he says. What they haven't seen is her boldly fight for the right from outside the political mainstream. Still, Schofield observes:
"Perdue is a strong and skilled political figure who owes her election to a core of progressive voters - a high percentage of whom were clearly drawn to the polls by the inspirational and visionary candidacy of President-elect Barack Obama. She knows these are not ordinary times. She is also smart enough to know that it simply won't do for her adopt the traditional "go along, get along" approach favored by her former colleagues in the state Senate."
Given that, what does Rob think Bev should do? For starters: (1) Broaden the sales tax base (to cover services), while cutting the rate(s). (2) Add brackets to the state income tax. (3) Eliminate business tax loopholes. In short, go for progressive taxation for a change, while avoiding the temptation to balance a tough budget next year on the backs of the poor.
Also: (4) Appoint someone who's not one of the usual suspects (i.e., development industry apparatchiks like Lyndo Tippett) to lead the N.C. Department of Transportation.
(Schofield's full piece is here.)
Assure health insurance for every child in the state
A second overarching area in which the Governor-elect can send a strong early signal is in the area of health care. As one of the few substantive areas in which the Perdue campaign charted a strong and progressive course from the "get go," this is an area in which she is well-positioned to claim a mandate from voters to act, and act quickly.
In this regard, the most obvious first step is to quickly propose and enact legislation that would assure guaranteed affordable health insurance coverage for every child in the state. Especially in light of budget constraints and the expectation that the "big fix" must start in Washington (and that new federal health care dollars are likely to be freed up) expansion of children's health care is a discreet and affordable step that could be accomplished in relatively short order.
Make reform promises a reality
The third overarching area in which Bev Perdue can make an immediate and strong statement to her progressive electoral base is in the area of political reform. During her campaign, the Governor-elect promised to open the windows of state government and "let the sunshine in." As someone who seems to have always been more comfortable (or, at least as comfortable) with the traditional ways of crafting policy, political reform offers a perfect opportunity for a "Nixon goes to China" moment.
To this end, the Governor-elect would do well to take the following near term steps:
1. Commence a policy of weekly news conferences.
2. Appoint a reform-minded "non-usual suspect" to head the Department of Transportation and demand that he or she produce a plan for real reform and modernization within 60 days.
3. Endorse the package of policy proposals put forth by the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform.
4. Direct the Department of Administration to develop an easily searchable, publicly available database that would document every state contract with a private vendor above some specified minimum size.
In addition, the Governor-elect should send a strong early signal that she intends to continue and build upon Governor Easley's impressive record in the area of consumer protection. This will mean stating plainly and clearly that she will veto any legislation that attempts to roll back any of the state's highly successful anti-predatory lending laws and that she endorses the push for new ways to protect average citizens from irresponsible behavior by large corporations.
Like a lot of politicians who finally realize their electoral dreams, Govern-elect Perdue has reached the "now what?" moment in her political career - the point at which she confronts just why it is that she has devoted several decades to the pursuit of higher office. Let's hope that it is a liberating moment for her and a point in time in which she vows to make the enactment of progressive policies her overriding objective. If she does, it seems certain that she will quickly win the affection of her progressive supporters to go along with their votes.