Governor Beverly Perdue is everywhere this week, trying to reboot her administration after her first year in office was dominated by events largely out of her control, the national recession and the state budget problems it created and a series of criminal investigations of elected officials, including her predecessor as governor, Mike Easley.
Much of the anxiety and anger in the state seemed directed at Perdue, who couldn’t seem to shake low approval ratings that were among the worst in the country.
As part of her fresh start, Perdue is laying out her agenda for the next three years in speeches across the state stressing economic development, education reform, and cleaning up state government.
She outlined her education priorities Wednesday morning before a joint meeting of the State Board of Education, the UNC Board of Governors and the State Board of Community Colleges. Perdue wants more diagnostic assessment of students, incentives for teachers in troubled schools, agreement on standards for students leaving high school, and a ten-point improvement in the graduation rate.
Perdue calls her education agenda Career and College: Ready, Set, Go! and much of it may be funded by federal money if the state’s proposal for the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top Initiative is accepted.
Perdue’s ideas for education are all good ones, but it is not clear how they all fit together and her speech was also notable for what it didn’t mention, the achievement gap, suspension rates, and the link between family poverty and poor student performance.
State lawmakers are likely to face another budget shortfall next spring and though Perdue has pledged to find and eliminate waste in government, it is hard to imagine more funding for services for poor families that were cut deeply last year. Staving off more cuts will be hard enough.
Perdue says jobs are her number one priority and there’s a program for that too, Biz Boost, that’s aimed at small business. She also wants to give small companies another tax credit.
Her program to address corruption is a little less specific, though it has a name too, Setting Government Straight.” It includes everything from fighting Medicaid fraud, cutting waste and “zero-tolerance” for unethical and illegal behavior.
One of the flurry of press releases from Perdue’s office added a fourth item to her three-pronged agenda, “Keeping Communities Safe.” That was described as “continue taking steps to reform and strengthen public safety.”
Tough on crime always sells and Perdue told a Greensboro audience about her grandstanding efforts to keep inmates behind bars that the courts have ordered released.
The agenda and the press push feel more like a campaign than a week in the governor’s office. That’s ok. The state could use a lift and we certainly need more jobs, a higher graduation rate, and a more open and honest government.
Perdue’s on the right track, but there’s something missing somehow from her approach this week. Not just the specifics of each proposal, presumably they are coming soon.
It’s more the helter-skelter nature of her agenda reboot, tying to do everything in the first real week back from the holidays. Adding a bullet point about crime as part of her education and government reform agenda is an example of what feels like a frenzy to remake her image immediately.
And while most of Perdue’s proposals do make sense, there’s nothing that feels radically new, despite the catchy names, nothing that people will be talking about on their own for the next few weeks.
But maybe that’s ok too. An active, engaged governor is vital to the state’s success and we clearly have one.
Perdue told the Greensboro crowd that she will have “initiative after initiative” in the next four months. Let’s hope some of them fill in the gaps that she left this week and that she saves some energy to translate the cleverly-named programs into action.