In a previous life, I worked in DC politics/think tanks and then later as Vice President of the Goldwater Institute. In the first capacity as a program director at a think tank in Washington, I had the opportunity to meet Art Pope, who always struck me as a principled and smart guy.
It wasn’t until I came to North Carolina that I came to learn his reputation here. When you talk to people about Mr. Pope, you are either greeted by fear and loathing (from the left) or admiration on the right for what he has accomplished in helping to elect the first entirely Republican General Assembly in 100 years, along with a Republican governor.
Pope now serves as Budget Director in the McCrory administration.
Pope’s power comes not just from his money, money he in part inherited and then grew as head of Variety Wholesalers, which owns mainly discount stores in the southeast. His power also comes from a strategy he has developed, in part by looking at what Charles Koch has accomplished with his much larger fortune nationally.
Pope’s network has contributed not just to individual campaigns, but has also laid the groundwork for conservative ideas through organizations like the John Locke Foundation, the Civitas Institute, the North Carolina Center for Constitutional Law.
In addition, Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-related organization has been particularly active and effective in North Carolina. Tune your radio to 106.1 to hear the AFP ads already being run against Democratic Senator Kay Hagan even though there are six Republicans running in an unsettled primary field.
Many practitioners in the Wake County Courthouse would prefer someone familiar with the actual practice of criminal law, rather someone picked by either party from the civil bar or from politics in general.
The fear is that the new DA is a purely political figure; or someone who has no criminal law experience.
The DA in Wake County is a politician, but also a working prosecutor. See recently that Colon Willoughby personally tried the manslaughter case involving a Detention Center guard.
A well functioning office that is efficient can’t just be a stepping stone to a higher office for an ambitious politician. It must have someone who knows how cases move through the criminal justice system.
What Will Pope Do?
Running for DA will cost money. A candidate backed by Art Pope’s considerable fundraising operation will have a natural advantage.
Given that the Wake County District Attorney is the point man in politically important prosecutions, it would be bizarre to think that someone with a deep interest in the current political configuration in North Carolina would be uninterested in who is the new District Attorney.