If you're a close follower of North Carolina politics, a weekend Washington Post profile of state budget director Art Pope didn't break much new ground. The Saturday piece, written by the Post's Matea Gold, explores Pope's unique place in N.C. and American politics, how his power derives from his status as both an insider (budget director) and outsider (think tank founder and influential donor to the University of North Carolina).
Add it up, and you have a man who might be more powerful than anyone in N.C. politics. Including his boss.
It's a fine piece of what those in the industry call "parachute journalism" - a national outlet parachuting into a city or state to write something for the audience back home. As such, Gold spends some time going over what those in North Carolina already know - how the Republican revolution Pope set in motion has led to tax overhaul but tight finances, conservative legislation but Moral Monday protests and, of course, education cuts and discontent about those cuts.
The underlying question for Gold (and many North Carolinians): How much power does Pope actually wield? Does he merely inform Gov. Pat McCrory about issues, or is he telling the governor what to do?
Gold doesn't give a firm answer, but her report and the anecdotes within leave a definite impression: Pope is extraordinarily influential, and although he and McCrory insist that the governor has the final say on issues, McCrory is clearly deferential to his subordinate.
In fact, the Gov. doesn't particularly come off well in the report. Says an unnamed Republican lobbyist: "The governor yields to Art." Then there's this anecdote, in which McCrory is a little too admiring:
McCrory sat on a chair behind his budget director, nodding along. When Pope was done, the governor stood up with a grin.
“I wish I could’ve had a camera, from this angle, watching the reporters’ faces while Art explained the budget, because now y’all know how I felt during hour after hour after hour,” McCrory said with a chuckle.
The governor took some questions. On most, he deferred to Pope.
Peter St. Onge“I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to have Art kind of explain the details of that number that you just presented, so you can hear all sides of that argument,” McCrory told a reporter who asked about whether cuts to the university system would lead to tuition hikes. “Art, if you don’t mind? Because he can present it much better than I can.”