N.C. Policy Watch is excited to make a rather surprising announcement this morning. After brief set of whirlwind discussions and negotiations, North Carolina conservative icon and philanthropist J. Arthur Pope of Raleigh has announced that he is severing ties with the conservative political movement and shifting his allegiances and financial support to the progressive side of the political spectrum.
In a hastily convened news conference at the Policy Watch offices, Pope stated that he “simply could no longer stand by and allow his family name to be used to support causes in which I no longer believe.”
Policy Watch Director Chris Fitzsimon called the move “incredibly courageous” and said that while progressive North Carolinians would likely be “a little shocked” by the development, he was confident that they would also “welcome Art with open arms.’
Pope announced that he is withdrawing all future financial commitments to the John Locke Foundation, Pope-Civitas Institute (to be renamed the Koch-Civitas Institute), Americans for Prosperity and all other conservative advocacy groups to which Pope family money has long flowed. The Pope Center for Higher Education will retain its name but will immediately shift staff and mission and is expected to affiliate with another former fierce Pope critic, the N.C. Association Educators.
Starting today, Pope will also join the Advisory Board of N.C. Policy Watch – a group with whom many of Pope’s former grant recipients have long clashed. Mr. Pope also announced that his family foundation will be making a gift of $1 million to Policy Watch’s parent organization, the N.C. Justice Center. The money will be used for general operations and to establish a new, endowed staff position of Community Consumer Advocate.
The mission of this new position will be to help spur each of the 440 stores owned by Pope’s family business (Variety Wholesalers) to reform its ways when it comes to the treatment of employees and interactions with the public. The objective, said Pope, is to help each of the Variety Wholesalers stores to transform themselves from lower-end strip mall retailers that principally target working class people with cheap, imported products into worker and consumer-directed coops.
“‘Buy local, sell local’ is my new mantra,” said Pope.
When asked to explain what could have precipitated such a remarkable and radical turnaround for a man who once served as a Republican lawmaker and statewide candidate and whose former conservative allies are seemingly enjoying greater political influence than ever before, Pope said there “no one thing” was responsible for the turnaround.
“It was a lot of little things,” said Pope,” the force of Reverend Barber’s [head of the North Carolina NAACP] speech at HK on J, the cumulative effect Chris Fitzsimon’s comments on NC Spin, Jim Protzman giving me hell day after day on Blue NC. Over the years, they’ve just worn me down. I see now that the notion that we can move our state and nation ahead while adhering to a 1950′s vision of government and public structures was simply misguided.”
To complete the remarkable about-face involved in Pope’s announcement, it was also announced this morning that Dallas Woodhouse, long-time head of the North Carolina chapter of Americans for Prosperity would be following Pope into the progressive advocacy community. Woodhouse will be spearheading a new Policy Watch-affiliated venture that will work to combat bigotry on social issues to be known as Americans for Diversity.