Under the Dome

Responding to critics, Art Pope 'shocked' by picket protest

Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory's chief budget writer, takes questions from reporters. McCrory proposed a $20.6 billion state budget at the State Capitol Wednesday, March 20, 2013.
Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory's chief budget writer, takes questions from reporters. McCrory proposed a $20.6 billion state budget at the State Capitol Wednesday, March 20, 2013. tiwabu@newsobserver.com

A week after a picketing campaign began at his family’s stores, Art Pope responded to critics in a letter that says he is “shocked” by the tactics being used against him.

The letter is a response to NAACP President Rev. William Barber, who handed Pope a letter a week ago when the two happened to confront each other at on a sidewalk in Raleigh. Barber and his associates are protesting Pope’s financing of conservative causes from profits at his Variety Wholesalers stores.

Pope is Gov. Pat McCrory’s state budget director and a major conservative benefactor. He responded on his company’s letterhead and signed as president of Variety Wholesalers, a role he stepped away from when he joined the McCrory administration.

The letter from Barber and other critics of the Republican administration and state legislature asked Pope to renounce policies that they believe hurt poor people and join the call for a special session to reverse course. Pope responded that he disagrees “with some but not all” of the critics’ positions. He said they share a common goal of alleviating poverty.

But at the same time, Pope said he was “saddened” by the attacks on his company, arguing that it creates and brings “thousands of much-needed jobs to communities throughout North Carolina.”

“I am shocked that you and your allies would demand any public official to support your political positions, by threatening a business which is not part of state government,” Pope wrote.

The stores, such as Roses and Maxway, sell discount goods and pay the state “millions of dollars in income and sales taxes to finance our public schools and other public services.” He also touted the racial diversity of the stores’ workforce.

Pope wrote in the letter, “in a free and small ‘d’ democratic society, every citizen should be free to support the candidates of their choice, and advocate the policies they believe in, without retaliation.”

One of the issues where Pope and his critics agree is the need for an independent redistricting committee. As he notes in the letter, Pope sponsored two bills to create such an entity in his years as a state lawmaker.

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