North Carolina’s political climate may be experiencing its own form of global warming. At minimum, it’s already a hot topic nationally.
The October 10 issues of The New Yorker and Time magazines feature articles examining politics in this state through fairly strong lenses. The New Yorker’s “State for Sale” by Jane Mayer sizes up Raleigh multimillionaire Art Pope and his financial influences in the Legislature and beyond, particularly as related to national trends. And Time‘s “The Preschool Wars” by Kayla Webly spotlights the political and legal struggle over funding preschool education in the state kicked off by legislative budget cuts this year to the former “More at Four” program.
As detailed in The New Yorker, Pope’s influence reached out in all directions in the 2010 election through the Republican REDMAP strategy, aiming for more Republican representation. In Western North Carolina, it affected the District 50 race for the state Senate between the then-incumbent John Snow, a three-term conservative Democrat, and Jim Davis, a politically inexperienced Republican who was narrowly the winner. (The district covers the eight southwestern counties: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Transylvania.)
In the article, Snow — who often voted with Republicans during his tenure — recounts the mass mailings and attacks that “tried to make me look liberal.” Spending against Snow in this far-flung corner of the state, the report notes, amounted to several hundred thousand dollars on the part of two organizations closely linked to Pope, Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action. The article goes into Pope’s other affiliations at length, including the well-known John Locke Foundation that his family foundation founded.
Buncombe County Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr., a Democrat who served with Pope for a brief time when both were in the N.C. House, is quoted several times in the article, including this statement: “Art Pope set out to buy power, and it’s working.” (Pope’s quoted answer to critics: “Yes, I’m going to support my side. I really do believe in the marketplace of ideas.”)
The New Yorker‘s piece offers a credible primer of political operatives in this state, including organizations and individual players, as well as addressing wider issues involved in the national political climate.
The Time magazine article, on the other hand, focuses on the fate of preschool education in North Carolina in light of recent legislative and the resultant judicial actions affecting pre-kindergarten funding — specifically the program formerly known as More at Four, which has been a top-ranking national program.
The background for this labyrinthine situation includes budget cuts (11.5 percent) to the program made by the current Republican-dominated Legislature, with restrictions placed on the number of at-risk children who could have access to the program. In July, Judge Howard Manning of Wake County Superior Court ruled the cuts unconstitutional and ordered the money restored and the limits removed. Manning is the judge involved in the state’s longstanding Leandro case concerning public-education funding. At the request of legislative leadership, the state’s Attorney General’s Office is appealing Manning’s ruling.
It barely takes an educated guess to see that the state will continue to be scrutinized in the press for the coming year. A swing state that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama barely carried in 2008, North Carolina is the host of the Democratic National Convention in 2012 (in Charlotte). The Old North State is going to be on stage in prime-time politics, ready or not.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor