Category: Public Service
The News & Observer‘s veteran political reporter Rob Christensen writes that Gov. Pat McCrory’s hiring of Art Pope as his budget director was “a shrewd move – and not just because Pope works cheap as a $1-a-year man.”
Christensen contributed this column on Pope, who is also President and Chairman of the John William Pope Foundation:
Many people find it difficult to think dispassionately about Pope because he has become such a polarizing figure – knight of the right to his admirers or a somewhat sinister Daddy-Warbucks-Dick-Cheney-string-puller to his critics.
But for McCrory, a rookie governor with little Raleigh experience, having Pope at his side during the early months of his administration has been an asset.
Consider that McCrory is spending three hours a day preparing his state budget for delivery to the legislature later this month.
With the state still trying to shake off the effects of the deep recession, Pope brings a sharp businessman’s eyes to the state budget. Pope, as head of the regional retail chain Variety Wholesalers, is accustomed to competing with retail giants such as Wal-Mart and K-Mart.
Pope is also knowledgeable about state government, having served in the legislature and the administration of Gov. Jim Martin, and been a GOP candidate for lieutenant governor. He’s also a longtime state policy wonk, who has bankrolled free market think tanks and conservative groups in Raleigh.
Art Pope’s ability to reach across the aisle and work with Democrats gets highlighted in this story from The Charlotte Business Journal (subscription required):
On the atypically warm January day Pat McCrory became North Carolina’s 74th governor, and its first Republican in that office in 20 years, one of his predecessors smiled when asked about McCrory’s newly appointed state budget director, 56-year-old Art Pope.
“Art Pope is a very bright guy,” said Mike Easley, a Democrat and former two-term governor who understands political controversy as well as anyone in North Carolina. (Easley had his law license suspended and pleaded guilty to one felony count of campaign-finance violations after leaving office.) “He understands the budget. And people should not judge what they think he’s going to do until after he does it. I’ve got confidence in his ability. And once he sees the challenges, he’ll find a way to meet them.”
Later in the piece, the CBJ explores characterizations of Art as “a Machiavellian mastermind” in politics, accusations that those close to Art are quick to dismiss:
“I call it the Pope Derangement Syndrome,” said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation. Hood said the notion of Pope as a lightning rod makes little sense because most people have no idea who he is. “Most Democrats laugh at this stuff. You’re hearing from a few left-wing politicians and commentators.”
Some Democrats, including Easley and Dennis Wicker, the former lieutenant governor who defeated Pope in the race for that office in 1992, agree.
“People have got to understand he has been involved as an elected official, but when he was out (of office), it was on the level you’re supposed to be,” Easley said. “He tries to elect candidates, he tries to raise money, he tries to get votes out. The same things that make democracy great. So what’s all the criticism about? Let’s see how he serves. He’ll do well.”
Added Wicker: “Art is very passionate on policy issues. My feeling is that Democrats need to come up with competing policies and new ideas. So I don’t think criticizing him is appropriate unless you have a competing idea or competing policy.”
Art Pope’s appointment as Deputy Budget Director in the new McCrory administration drew the attention of Bloomberg, which contributed this story on the possibilities of the shift in power in Raleigh:
For more than two decades, North Carolina businessman Art Pope advocated free markets and limited government. Now he’s in a position to turn his views into reality.
Pope, 56, chairman of Variety Wholesalers Inc., an operator of discount retail stores, was appointed as budget director by new Governor Pat McCrory. Pope, a long-time Republican donor, took office this month after elections in which his party took control of the governorship and legislature for the first time in more than a century.
Friends and foes said Pope’s appointment suggests McCrory, a former Charlotte mayor, will turn the state in a new direction by embracing cuts in the income tax and budget, moves long advocated by Pope and research groups he created and funds.
“It really sent a signal,” said Dallas Woodhouse, state director of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the Arlington, Virginia-based organization formed by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, which favors spending and regulatory restraint. Pope was a founding national board member.
“We’re going to see a major overhaul of state government, a major overhaul of the tax code,” Woodhouse said. “The corporate income tax will disappear. The personal income tax will be cut at least in half.”
Andrea Harris, president of the N.C. Institute for Minority Economic Development, credits Art Pope and Variety Wholesalers Inc. with saving jobs in low-income, rural areas of North Carolina.
Harris is quoted in this news story from The Triangle Tribune, an African-American newspaper (emphasis added):
Born in Henderson, N.C., Harris witnessed the closing of Roses Store headquarters. Out of a city that holds about 45,000 people, nearly 6,000 lost their jobs in almost six years.
Variety Wholesalers, Inc., where Pope is CEO, saved jobs for the residents. Many of the stores are in minority census track and low-income towns.
“We need commercial investments in our neighborhoods that don’t sell alcohol and drug paraphernalia. Variety Wholesalers does not sell tobacco, alcohol or guns. Over half the employees are women. Over a third of the managers look like me,” Harris said. “When it comes to Art Pope, I see a different person than what most people see.”
Art Pope, President and Chairman of the John William Pope Foundation and CEO of Variety Wholesalers Inc., has accepted the position of Deputy Budget Director in the McCrory Administration.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to join with Governor-elect McCrory and the rest of the administration in building a brighter future for North Carolina,” Pope said.
Pope brings varied public service experience to his new role, having served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives and as Special Counsel to Gov. Jim Martin. In 1992, he was the Republican nominee for Lieutenant Governor.
Learn more about Pope’s public service
Learn more about Pope’s philanthropic efforts
Throughout his public service career, Pope’s top goal has been to reform North Carolina’s budget and tax system to better serve citizens.
Pope also oversees the giving of the Pope Foundation, one of the most generous philanthropies in North Carolina. Located in Wake County, the Foundation donates $10 million each year to public policy groups, educational institutions, humanitarian efforts, and the arts.