Gov. Bev Perdue said in her official hello to the North Carolina Governor’s Conference for Women that the event was a chance for women from across the state to “trade ideas…in a welcoming and energized atmosphere.” (At the very least, it gave the governor a chance to name preceding speaker Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back as one of Perdue's "favorite books.”)
But Wednesday’s daylong event went beyond workshops on topics including finance and self-esteem, despite the “Power Up, Power On!” slogan. It was a chance for President Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett to give the keynote luncheon speech and become the latest member of the administration to offer North Carolina some love. One of the first lines of every visitor here is invariably: “It’s nice to be outside of Washington, D.C.” And wasn’t it also nice that the latest edition of the conference landed in Charlotte, site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention?
After praising Gov. Perdue, the state’s first woman governor, for being a “passionate” advocate and fighting “tirelessly” for North Carolinians, Jarrett reminded the sold-out audience of 1,500 that Obama, at the start of his time in office, signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and has also appointed two women to the Supreme Court.
With convention CEO Steve Kerrigan sitting beside her (that guy is everywhere), Jarrett said all the right things about Charlotte, pointing out that it is “a city that really reflects the 21st century in terms of its energy, diversity, dynamism," and adding "it is on the cutting edge.” She said the world “looks to the United States for leadership,” and in September 2012, that view will focus on Charlotte. In the city of beleaguered Bank of America, Jarrett endorsed the idea that banks are the “lifeblood of our economy,” before adding that they have to follow “the rules of the road.
Yes, the state’s 15 electoral votes guarantee continuing attention from both parties in a volatile political climate. But Jarrett expressed confidence in a particular part of the coalition that helped give the president a close North Carolina victory in 2008. She said, “The African American community will come out in full support of President Obama,” with a belief that “the American dream can be a real possibility,” despite unemployment rates in the country that are still “way too high.”
Jarrett passionately defended the American Jobs Act as a solution, the one the president has been selling across the country — including North Carolina recently — with little support in Washington. “The American people support the American Jobs Act in overwhelming numbers,” she said. “Eventually the Congress will act.”
In my earlier conversation with Perdue, who is a Democrat, she mostly steered clear of the politics that Jarrett didn’t try too hard to avoid. Perdue didn’t mention party or a 2012 race against her probable return opponent, former Charlotte mayor Pat McCrory, that Politico has judged would be the second most competitive in the nation. “I’ve decided a long time ago I don’t worry about the politics of it all,” she said.
At her opening conference speech, Perdue did tell conference attendees that sometimes discussions are different “when there’s a woman at the table,” referring perhaps indirectly to tangles with a GOP-controlled legislature over issues ranging from cuts in education funding to restricting abortion rights.
And she told me, “There is a lot of public feeling right now … that there has been a backing away from our investment in public schools and teachers and teachers’ assistants. If women were in charge, I would believe that at least the discussion would have been different in the General Assembly — maybe not the outcome.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning Charlotte, N.C.-based journalist, is a contributor to The Root, NPR, Creative Loafing and the Nieman Watchdog blog. Her “Keeping It Positive” segment airs Wednesdays at 7:10 on TV’s Fox News Rising Charlotte, and she was national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter.