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How confident is Erskine Bowles of his standing in the legislature? Confident enough to tell the Appropriations Committee that Governor Perdue’s UNC budget is “ludicrous.”

 

Bowles’ bluntness raised eyebrows around Raleigh. The Governor said she was “miffed,” but then assured us that she and Erskine talked and that love is in bloom again.

 

Bowles knows what he is doing. He got where he is by being a long-range planner.

 

First, he’s standing up for the university. What he said will play well on 16 campuses and with all their friends.

 

Second, he’s telling the legislature to give him the flexibility to manage the budget. He’ll probably get it. One lobbyist said legislators treat him like a celebrity. They brushed aside Treasurer Janet Cowell’s warnings that furloughs, which Bowles has proposed, would hurt the state’s credit rating.

 

Third, Bowles is clearly feeling comfortable in his job. Far more comfortable than he ever was as a candidate for Senate. To put it kindly, he was a fresh-water fish lost in the ocean. Bowles is an executive personality – in business, at the Small Business Administration, in the White House and now at the University.

 

He’s not a legislator, but he knows how to handle them.

 

Bowles may never have the charisma of a Frank Porter Graham, nor earn the same place in the state’s heart as a Bill Friday. But when it comes to dealing with the legislature – one of the UNC president’s biggest jobs – Bowles may beat them all.

 

 

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