The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday December 9th

State Will Get 1st Female Lt. Gov. On Election Day

After Nov. 7, North Carolina will have a female lieutenant governor for the first time in its history - no matter who wins.

The three people vying for the post - Reform candidate Catherine Carter, Republican candidate Betsy Cochrane and Democratic candidate Beverly Perdue - are all female. The only question is which will go down in the history books.

UNC political science Professor Pamela Conover said electing a woman to this office would be a step forward for the state. "Anytime we get women into office, I think it's important and it begins to change things."

But Conover said gender would not be a real issue in the race because all the candidates are female. "When you have (more than one) woman running, it neutralizes the impact of gender."

Cochrane and Perdue, the race's two front-runners, have both served several terms in the state House and Senate.

Cochrane has served as a state representative for four terms and a senator for six. She was the first and only woman to serve as Senate minority leader, having also served as House minority leader and Senate minority whip.

Purdue has served two terms in the state House and five terms in the Senate. As Senate Appropriations Committee chairwoman, she has been a chief architect in balancing the state's budget since 1993, she said.

In addition to their past government experience, both are former schoolteachers. Cochrane is an Advance resident and graduate of Meredith College, an all-female school in Raleigh. Perdue, a New Bern resident, is also a Meredith College graduate.

Carter, a Blowing Rock resident, has studied environmental topics at various colleges and ran for California State Assembly in 1996, receiving 10 percent of the vote.

With the candidates' similar backgrounds, experts say the race will come down to their plans for education and the economy.

UNC journalism Professor Ferrel Guillory, who is an expert in Southern politics, said a major discrepancy between the candidates is that Perdue advocates a more powerful government while Cochrane supports privatization.

He said the race was closely following issues debated in the gubernatorial race, particularly K-12 and higher education.

Both candidates say they support the $3.1 billion higher education bond referendum, which will fund capital construction at the state's universities and community colleges. The lieutenant governor heads the Board of Community Colleges and sits on the State Board of Education.

Cochrane said new science labs and renovation of older buildings - which the bond would fund - are important.

But she wants to hold UNC-system leaders accountable for their expenditures. "I want to see to it that the trustees and Board of Governors do a good job setting spending priorities," she said, emulating the stance of Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Vinroot.

Cochrane said she wants to make technological advancements at the community colleges by starting new degree programs specific to area job needs.

Cochrane also said she plans to enact tougher competency standards in grades K-12. "I will work to make a diploma mean 12 years of competency so we have a smart finish for schools," she said.

Cochrane said she supports removing the state's cap on charter schools and advocates a trial of private school vouchers for students in failing schools.

But Purdue said she opposes tuition vouchers and would examine future charter school expansion.

"We need to make sure that all our kids can have a top-notch education, not ripping millions of dollars out of our public school system," she said, echoing the campaign rhetoric of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Easley.

Purdue said technological advances paid for by the bond are integral to the future of higher education in the state.

According to her Web site, Carter advocates changing K-12 education by making learning techniques more hands-on and tailored to the individual student.

Next to education, the state's economy is receiving the most attention. The next lieutenant governor will head the state's Economic Development Board.

Purdue said she would maintain the state's reputation as a good place to do business in, while expanding business to rural areas, increasing average wages.

Cochrane said she plans to maintain low tax rates, while strengthening transportation and water infrastructure.

Carter's Web site said she supports environmentally friendly businesses.

The lieutenant governor candidates have backed initiatives for the aging like prescription drug programs.

Cochrane said she supports using partnerships between businesses, communities and families to help focus on in-home care for the elderly, while Purdue focuses on patient protection and affordability of prescription drugs. Carter's Web site said she is primarily concerned with preventative medicine.

With Election Day two weeks away, Guillory said the race is too close to call.

But he said the presidential election will bring more people than usual to the polls, dividing the vote along party lines.

"Once you get below the office of governor, it's very hard for candidates to break into public consciousness," Guillory said. "The lieutenant governor's role is much more a role of influence and persuasion than a position of direct power."

The State & National Editor can be reached at stntdesk@unc.edu.


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