Pope faces primary challenge

pseligson@newsobserver.comMarch 31, 2014 

  • District 5 County Commissioners’ seat

    Cookie Pope, the incumbent of 20 years, and Patrick Harris, her challenger, are running for the District 5 County Commisioners’ seat, which includes the Cleveland community, East and South Smithfield and part of Elevation Township. Both are Republican, and no Democrat is running, so whoever wins on May 6 will win the 2014 election, barring a successful write-in campaign.

Cookie Pope, a county commissioner for almost 20 years, wants to serve at least four more, standing on what has been her platform since 1994: jobs, schools and public safety.

Pope represents District 5, which encompasses the Cleveland community, East and South Smithfield and part of Elevation Township, though voters countywide cast balllots in all commissioner races.

Pope faces a primary challenge from political newcomer Patrick Harris.

“I want to continue the legacy that I have started,” Pope said. She described that legacy as building schools, bringing jobs to Johnston, making sure the county can pay its debts and ensuring residents’ safety.

Pope represents county commissioners on the board of Johnston Health, and she wants to continue overseeing the county’s health-care expansion into Clayton. The former farm girl also champions agriculture.

“I’m always looking for ways that we can improve with agriculture,” she said. “I want (farmers) to be able to make a living and for that to be a thriving industry.”

To add jobs, Pope said commissioners took an important step in hiring Chris Johnson as the county’s full-time director of economic development. Johnston, who was Smithfield’s downtown director, will help the county grow jobs as the economy improves, she said.

The county, Pope added, should focus also on small businesses, not just big industry. “Small businesses tend to stay when they come,” she said.

Pope would also like to see a natural gas line run to the Four Oaks business park, and she wants to see more growth east of Interstate 95.

“I’ve always welcomed growth,” Pope said. “I’ve never been one to say, you know, stay out of here, because I just think that we have so much to offer.”

Growth will require adding infrastructure, which Pope plans to address with fellow commissioners if reelected.

Pope said the county’s long-term school-building plan includes new campuses in the Cleveland community and near Kenly. She noted that about three-fourths of voters approved the 2013 bond referendum to borrow $64 million to build more schools.

Pope said she will continue to support the agencies that keep Johnston County safe: Emergency Medical Services, the Sheriff’s Office, firefighters and police.

If reelected, Pope said, she will continue working with towns and communities throughout Johnston. “Whatever is good for any municipality is good for the county,” she said.

Pope has often run unopposed. So how does she feel about facing a challenger this year? “It really doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I’ve got a proven record. I brought about school construction when it was thought it could not be done, and the citizens of this county have, with the bond issue referendums, overwhelmingly supported that.”

Pope said she will also work hard to keep the property tax rate down. “I will work hard to make sure, as I’ve always done, that the bills are paid, and we’ve got some money in the bank,” she said,

Pope is a paralegal with the Mast Law Firm in downtown Smithfield. She lives in the Cleveland community with her husband, Jackie, who farms. At age 72, she has three sons and four grandsons.

Pope is a member of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and its agricultural steering committee.

She said she enjoys working and has no plans to stop working anytime soon.

“I just love being part of making good things happen,” she said.

Seligson: 919-836-5768

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