RALEIGH — Commenting on the wackiness that is North Carolina politics, national pundits have focused on Art Pope as the puppet master pulling the strings of the state’s conservative turn.
Pope is a convenient target.
The multimillionaire retailer has been a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and causes. He is a friend of Democrats’ Public Enemies No. 1, the Koch brothers. Since January, he has been Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.
No doubt, Pope has been a big influence in the Republicans’ ascendancy here.
Those national pundits miss the mark, though.
North Carolina just happened to be ground zero in a national battle for political control of state legislatures leading up to the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts in 2011.
That battle was directed mostly from Washington, not Raleigh.
If there is some puppet master, his name is Ed Gillespie or Chris Jankowski.
Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee and was the chief campaign consultant for former U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole. He headed up something called Project REDMAP in 2010, intended to help the GOP win control of state legislative chambers around the country so that it could guide redistricting.
Jankowski is president of a Washington-based party group called the Republican State Leadership Committee, under which REDMAP operated.
It was Pope who helped form an outside spending group, called REAL Jobs NC, that was a key to the GOP’s legislative victories in North Carolina. He put $200,000 into the group in 2010. The Republican State Leadership Committee poured $1.25 million into it.
Overall, the RSLC raised about $30 million for its efforts in that election cycle, and North Carolina was one of the top three or four targets.
Pope did contribute $36,500 to the RSLC. It was small sum compared to how much corporate interests poured into the effort. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce donated $3.9 million. Tobacco companies Altria Group and American Reynolds each contributed better than $1 million.
The RSLC later helped pay national redistricting consultant Tom Hoeffler, who helped to redraw North Carolina’s congressional and legislative maps.
A lot of North Carolinians might be neither startled nor alarmed to see national money and national focus raining down on legislative races. Just more big-money politics, right?
This week, though, Jankowski and the RSLC sent out a news release criticizing State Attorney General Roy Cooper for publicly criticizing the voter-ID bill signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.
I suppose when you have helped decide who is in power somewhere, you feel entitled to tell people there what they should do.
If Jankowski is publicly telling Democrats here how to behave, it is easy to imagine that he is doing the same with Republicans in private.
This Washingtonization of North Carolina politics is likely to continue, as Democrats, if and when they regain power here, will likely owe someone in Washington for the reversal.
At least Art Pope lives in North Carolina. He has got skin in the game. He lives here, votes here, pays taxes here.
Does Chris Jankowski? How about Ed Gillespie?
Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist who writes about state government and politics.