Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Perdue takes control

Successful politicians use the powers granted to them to deal with crises and make change -- and sometimes they ask for more power to do what they've promised voters. When Gov. Jim Hunt was first took office in 1977, one of his initiatives was to crack down on crime. But Hunt discovered that members of the N.C. Parole Commission, which decides which inmates would get out of prison and which ones would stay, didn't serve at the pleasure of the governor and he couldn't replace the members immediately. So he came up with a quick fix. He abolished the old parole commission and created a new one -- with the power for the governor to appoint new members. Problem solved.
Now Gov. Bev Perdue has assumed office, and she's facing the same dilemma -- how to use the power she has and what new powers she might use to do what she proposes to do. Monday morning, she got right down to it, issuing six "change orders" that are, for example meant to provide more online sunshine on how the state operates, create a task force to develop an endowment for gubernatorial campaigns, improve performance at state agencies and schedule gubernatorial town halls across the state.
Two others would also directly deal with power. Perdue asked the Board of Transportation to cede authority over road projects to the secretary of transportation and his professional staff, and also directed board members to affirm in writing before every meeting that they have no financial interest in any matters before them. If board members don't follow the state's ethics laws and her directives, including presumably the one directing them to give up the power to vote on road projects, they'll be subject to dismissal.
In the legislature there may indeed be some support for revising the role of the Board of Transportation, but this will also be seen by some legislators as taking power from one place -- the board -- and concentrating that in the governor's hands, through her secretary of transportation and other management appointees. Whether that's good or bad is an entirely different question, but it would strengthen the governor's hand -- a process legislators have viewed dimly since the days of the Royal Governors.
Perdue also signed an executive order establishing the Budget Reform and Accountability Commission to come up with proposals for "using tax dollars in the most effective and efficient way possible." This will be a tougher sell. She wants the commission to come up with budgetary reforms that lawmakers would have to vote either up or down, though of course she cannot force the legislature to do so. It will be a matter of persuasion, and she recognizes that fact. It would be a good way to insure that her agenda would get considered by the legislature and that there would be a clear vote one way or another, but it's also likely to face legislative opposition. Lawmakers don't like having to make up-or-down choices on issues that they cannot first amend, tinker with or improve. We may hear quite a lot about the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

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