Local officials praise Perdue’s WNC visit

Gov. Bev Perdue seems to have started out on the right foot in Western North Carolina. It wasn’t just that she and her husband, Bob Eaves, had begun the day by walking around downtown Asheville. It had a lot more to do with the fact that, barely 60 days into her term, she was in the state’s western region at all.

A governor’s greeting: North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue gets a warm welcome from David Young, who is now chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, during her recent visit to the mountains. Photo by Jason Sandford

“I’ve never had an audience with the governor like that,” said David Gantt, chairman of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, speaking about a March 11 roundtable with WNC leaders. Some of the “old hands,” said Gantt, told him the last governor to do something similar was Bob Scott—some 40 years ago.

Following the roundtable, Perdue addressed a large luncheon crowd at the Crest Center hosted by the Council of Independent Business Owners. She opened her talk by teasing Asheville Mayor Terry Bellamy, saying, “Yes, Terry —the gang money is in the budget.” Bellamy later explained that money was for “making sure we had something for [gang] prevention” and not just juvenile incarceration.

Perdue talked mainly about the state’s economic woes amid the global recession. “The tragedy,” she noted, “is that it’s not localized to one or two communities. [There are] loss of jobs and home foreclosures from the smallest town to the largest skyscraper. Nobody escapes.”

But, she declared, “In North Carolina, we don’t sit around and whine: We get on through it.” With that, Perdue launched into how she plans to ensure that federal stimulus money reaches “every corner of the state,” saying she will downsize or eliminate some state programs while continuing to push education and job creation.

“These three words guide me,” said the governor: “efficiency, transparency, accountability.” And that accountability, she pointed out, includes a Web site that tracks federal recovery funds received by the state (http://ncrecovery.gov).

That idea was a hit with Gantt. “I’m going to try to get all of our [county] contracts and [requests for proposals] online, like the governor,” he told Xpress later.

Hendersonville Mayor Greg Newman also praised Perdue’s outreach to regional leaders. “She did most of the listening, and we did most of the talking,” he noted. “I think the overall feeling over the years is that the power center in Raleigh sort of views us as the tourism part of the picture. That’s not all we are. … I think she received a pretty broad view … [and] good representation of what we need to advance and succeed.” Those needs include jobs and broadband access, particularly in the far western counties bordering Tennessee, he noted.

“I’m Republican,” said Newman. “I didn’t back her, but I want her to succeed. I appreciate her efforts.”

The governor, said Bellamy, “is committed to the region of Western North Carolina.” The mayor planned to meet with her and Rep. Heath Shuler March 12 to discuss support for biotech.

“I think WNC, for the first time in a long time, will be taken seriously,” added Bellamy, citing Perdue’s appointments of former state Rep. Lanier Cansler of Asheville as secretary of health and human services, and Dale Carroll, former chief executive of AdvantageWest, as deputy secretary of commerce—who was travelling with her on the WNC trip.

“We’ll be considered for more appointments to statewide positions,” said Bellamy, and that’s something she intends to push. “[That] support will come back to our community,” she predicted.

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