News & Updates
Check back for regular updates on Art Pope’s presence in the news.
In response to a June 15 editorial in the Raleigh News & Observer, Art Pope contributed this letter to the editor:
Contrary to The News & Observer’s over-the-top editorial, “Democracy undone,” on June 15, democracy worked in regard to ending a program to give public dollars to political campaigns.
As state budget director, I was asked in a joint conversation with a legislator and a liberal lobbyist for Common Cause about an amendment to the budget bill to use a fee on attorneys to finance judicial political campaigns. As have all state budget directors, under Republican and Democratic governors, I supported the governor’s budget and explained that the North Carolina courts have held using compulsory attorney fees for political campaigns to be unconstitutional, since such a law “compels political speech and violates their guarantees of free speech in the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.” (El-Khouri et al. v. State of North Carolina et al.)
The News & Observer called this routine event “scary,” repeating almost verbatim an attack by Chris Kromm, of the Institute for Southern Studies. What Common Cause and Kromm have in common is that they are members of the left-wing Blueprint NC coalition. Blueprint NC and its progressive allies have no interest in a reasoned debate and instead have launched a campaign to “eviscerate” and “cripple” elected Republican leaders, including using – in their words – relentless earned media efforts: operatives with relationships to statewide media; private investigators and investigative reporting; and an op-ed program.
Enter The News & Observer as the “statewide media” carrying out Blueprint NC’s attacks. The News & Observer tried to further justify its attack on me because, heaven forbid, I am also a donor to Republicans and conservative organizations. This attack is particularly hypocritical, given that Blueprint NC and its major members receive millions of dollars from the liberal Reynolds Foundation, run by former Democratic state Sen. Leslie Winner, with numerous Democratic Party donors and activists on its board.
Their attack also conveniently left out my longtime record as a former legislator for bipartisan judicial reform by ending the election of judges entirely and replacing it with appointment by the governor and confirmation by the legislature, when there was Democratic legislative majority.
The News & Observer repeating unfounded attacks by Blueprint NC members to eviscerate our elected government and shut down those they disagree with, is truly democracy undone.
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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.”