I started covering Art Pope 12 years ago, when he decided North Carolina couldn’t survive without his guiding hand. At the time, Mr. Pope was just beginning his quest to take over our state, after having earlier lost his election bid for lieutenant governor. Unable to convince voters to elect him, he set out to buy the influence he couldn’t earn. And he did just that.
Mr. Pope is the architect of many political practices we abhor today. He pioneered the use of dark money to influence elections and laid the groundwork for today's fake news, steadily chipping away at the foundations of our government and our democracy.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Pope didn’t do any of this alone. He surrounded himself with a multi-million dollar opinion manufacturing machine that enabled him every step of the way. I used to call the machine the Art Pope Puppetshow, but that name really never fit. His employees are true-believers in their own right, parroting libertarian talking points that greed is good, fairness is for suckers, and democracy should be for sale to the highest bidder. The minions have championed Citizens United and the rights of corporations, just as they have railed against government efforts to remedy centuries-old patterns of discrimination against blacks, women, and gays. They don’t believe in public education, workers’ rights, or health care for all. And they're just fine with politicians choosing their voters, instead of the other way around.
It’s no accident that Pope’s efforts have led to the nativist assaults we see today all across the country. Right wing extremists in other states have been looking at North Carolina as a laboratory for voter suppression. They're watching how our legislature is getting away with dismantling regulations designed to protect our water, air, and open spaces. And they’re embracing Pope’s lessons that the rich should have more rights than the poor.
The damage done by Mr. Pope on North Carolina won’t fade quickly, but fade it will. By the middle of this century, some journalist somewhere will write an obituary about how an old white man tried and failed to take down our democracy. It won't be an easy story to tell.
I've been told that Mr. Pope has lost some of his fervor for activism and political posturing. Perhaps he regrets his role in the hard-right turn America has taken, or perhaps he feels he has won the day and there's nothing left to do. In either case, I wish him peace. No one should have to live with either of those burdens.