Raleigh, N.C. — Art Pope, backer of Republican candidates and fiscally conservative nonprofit groups, will serve as Gov. Pat McCrory's head of budget policy, the incoming governor announced Thursday.
Although he was introduced as the "deputy budget director," McCrory said Pope will be in charge of crafting the executive branch's budget proposal, and will be a key administration player who works with legislative leaders on tax reform.
As he was introduced, Pope explained that McCrory was "by the constitution, the chief budget director."
Pope is the head of Variety Wholesalers, a group of discount stores that includes Maxway, Roses, and Super Dollar, but he is better known for his political activities.
He served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives before becoming director of the right-leaning Americans for Prosperity, a national group that helped provide some of the organizational underpinning for the Tea Party movement. In North Carolina, Pope, his business and his family foundation fund an array of groups such as the John Locke Foundation and Civitas Institute, which have provided a drum beat for conservative and libertarian ideas. He has also been a major contributor to Real Jobs NC, an independent expenditure group that backed candidates for the legislature.
"I got the best qualified person for the job," McCrory said when asked if Pope's appointment might create political blow back from those who see him as a highly partisan figure. Pope and his family have actively funded independent expenditure efforts on the part of GOP candidates.
McCrory said that Pope will be "a full-time volunteer" and take leave from his nonprofit positions and his family business. McCrory pointed out that Pope was a co-author who helped create the state's rainy day fund, an emergency reserve used to respond to emergencies such as hurricanes.
"Whether it's fair or not, he is one of the most polarizing political figures in North Carolina. And now he is writing a state budget for nearly 10 million people," said Chris Fitzsimon, a policy analyst and writer with the liberal N.C. Policy Watch. "It's shocking that a governor who claims he is trying to reach across the aisle would make such an appointment."
Pope-funded Civitas has distributed a tax reform blueprint this week that would eliminate the individual income tax in favor of raising the sales tax and broadening the number of items and services to which sales tax applies. Fitzsimon questioned whether work like that by those think tanks will now become official McCrory administration positions.
"It's an honor to be given the opportunity to serve the people of North Carolina again," Pope said after being introduced. "We are today facing challenges in the state budget that have been here for three decades," Pope said, adding that he wants to ensure education dollars are spent wisely.
Democrats were immediately hostile to his appointment.
"It should be unexpected to see that Governor-Elect McCrory, once a moderate, progressive mayor, has cast his lot with the far-right," said Clay Pittman, a spokesman for the N.C. Democratic Party. Through this appointment, Pittman said, McCrory is alligning himself with "special interests, high-dollar donors and the leaders of the right wing."
McCrory also named lawyer Kieran Shanahan to be his secretary of public safety. Shanahan is a former federal prosecutor and founder of a boutique law firm in Raleigh. He has made frequent appearances as a legal analyst on WRAL News, including daily reports on the trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. He currently serves on the East Carolina University Board of Trustees and is a principal in Shanahan Law Group.
McCrory added former Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz to head up the the Department of Cultural Resources. As mayor, McCrory said, Kluttz helped develop the city’s Cultural Arts Plan and created a tourism master plan for Salisbury, including reorganization of local arts council.
Lyons Gray, a former state lawmaker, will serve as secretary of revenue. He has been a senior advisor to the president of the University of North Carolina system from 2011-2012. Previously, he served for four years (2005-2009) as the chief financial officer of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, where he served as the principal agency representative to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and to the various states.
That leaves three cabinet positions yet unfilled – commerce, administration and transportation. McCrory has said he hoped to fill out his cabinet before the General Assembly returns to Raleigh on Jan. 9.