Florida alumna becomes first female Governor of North Carolina
Published: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 2:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 10, 2009 at 2:45 p.m.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- Beverly Perdue, the daughter of a coal-miner who rose through the good ol'-boy political ranks to serve as a powerful state Senate budget-writer and two-term lieutenant governor, was sworn in Saturday as North Carolina's first female governor.
Perdue recited the oath of office administered by the female head of another branch of government — Chief Justice Sarah Parker — before thousands at the inauguration ceremony in downtown Raleigh.
As the successor to outgoing two-term Gov. Mike Easley, who watched from the front of the state Archives and History Building, Perdue referred only indirectly in her speech to her historic achievement and focused on North Carolina's current fiscal crisis.
"Today a new administration begins, one that's actually different from any other. My presence before you represents a departure from our past," Perdue said following a 19-gun salute in her honor. "It is a new beginning."
Perdue, the 100th person to become North Carolina's chief executive going back to Colonial times, was the last of 10 Council of State members to be sworn in Saturday.
Four on the Council, including Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, are newcomers to the exclusive panel of statewide elected officials. Two of them are women — giving females a majority on the Council for the first time.
The traditional inaugural parade — the first down historic Fayetteville Street since it was reopened to traffic — and open house at the Executive Mansion were to follow the ceremony.
In her 10-minute speech, Perdue pledged not to back off the state's commitment to education despite the state's anemic revenues, pledging to create more high-tech jobs and a green economy.
North Carolina's current budget shortfall has grown to a half-billion dollars since Perdue edged Republican nominee Pat McCrory in November's election. The gap between current revenues and expected expenditures could reach $3 billion in the coming fiscal year.
"Now it's time for us in the Old North state to confront new challenges," she said. "We are in the midst of a global economic crisis. People are actually worried about losing their jobs, about paying their mortgage, about their own personal future."
In keeping with her campaign platform, Perdue said she would create a more transparent, efficient state government "that works for them, not against them."
"Now is not the time for us to hunker down. We cannot 'just' cut back. And, I will not lower my expectations for you or for the people of North Carolina," she said.
Perdue, who turns 62 next week, was born in Grundy, Va. Her father began as a coal-miner but ended up becoming a wealthy mine owner.
She worked as a public school teacher in other states before moving to North Carolina in the 1970s and worked in the health care field after receiving a doctorate.
"This is the place where the daughter of parents ... who didn't graduate from high school can stand before you today and take the oath of office as governor," Perdue said.
As the story from the campaign trail goes, Perdue got elected to the House in 1986 after the male Craven County political bosses sat her down and said a woman couldn't get elected in the rural district.
She switched five years later to the Senate, where she learned under two political giants. Senate leader Marc Basnight gave her a coveted spot leading the Senate Appropriations Committee, while then-Gov. Jim Hunt made her a key part of his Smart Start early childhood initiative.
Elected the first female lieutenant governor in 2000, she expanded her political resume by leading the state's efforts to protect military installations in the most recent round of federal base closings. She also was praised for leading a trust fund that spent money on reducing teenage smoking.
In a veiled reference to Easley, known more as a delegator who took criticism in his final year for problems with the mental health and probation system, Perdue said she would be very involved in day-to-day operations and called on citizens to be involved.
"I pledge to be a fully engaged, hands-on governor," she said.
The inauguration ceremony included the Pledge of Allegiance, led by William Swart, a 12-year-old Wake County boy whose father is currently training for North Carolina National Guard duty in Iraq. Television icon and North Carolina native Andy Griffith capped the event on a sunny but blustery morning by reading a poem in Perdue's honor.
"When I see our morning sun, I know there's work to be done," recited Griffith, who also participated in Easley's 2001 and 2005 inaugurations. "Gov. Bev Perdue is the person we choose because there's so much she can do. She will need our best to achieve her quest to be the person we need so we may succeed."
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