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From the governor’s office, a clue

Just a few weeks ago in this space, the question came up as to which Pat McCrory will be the next governor of North Carolina.

Will we get the progressive and affable Republican mayor of Charlotte, who brought light rail — paid for by a tax increase — to the state’s busiest urban district and pushed for government spending on the arts, including the construction of a new arts center? Or will we get McCrory the candidate, who courted teaparty crowds by pledging to repeal Obamacare — which would make healthcare available to an estimated 700,000 previously uninsured North Carolinians — cutting personal and corporate income taxes, and opposing the innocuous but ominous sounding “Agenda 21,” which conservatives have targeted as a United Nations plot to take away our guns, our cars and our sovereignty?

The governor-elect gave a hint hand on the state healthcare exchange with the deadline looming. But the real clue as to which came in the days before Christ- mas, when McCrory named Art Pope as his deputy budget director.

THE TITLE IS A BIT MISLEADING, BECAUSE IN NORTH CAROLINA THE GOVERNOR IS THE DE FACTO BUDGET DIRECTOR.

The title is a bit misleading, because in North Carolina the governor is the de facto budget director. Pope will answer only to McCrory, which is troubling on all fronts.

For starters, this is not Pope’s first foray into politics. After serving four terms in the NC House, Pope has been using his billions — accrued through the ownership of dollar stores that cater to the financially vulnerable — to push a conservative agenda with non-profit groups like the Civitas Institute, the John Locke Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, of which he was the director until the day of his appointment.

Among the causes championed by these groups is the elimination of personal and corporate income tax in favor of increased sales tax, cuts to public education and the UNC System, and outright denial of the effects of climate change on the Outer Banks. Pope and his money contributed mightily to the passing of the Defense of Marriage Act, which enshrined bigotry against same-sex couples into our state constitution.

Pope has spent more than $3.6 million in state elections on the last four years, all of it on conservative candidates that toe the line set by his think tanks and policy shops. Many credit him with flipping the state legislature over to his way of thinking in 2010. And he was a major backer in McCrory’s campaign.

The post seems to be a reward for his patronage. But this is no mere ambassadorship.

The state budget is the basis for all policy — it dictates where the money goes, what gets funded and what doesn’t. And the only man standing between Pope and the allocation of the state’s $20.2 billion budget is the man Pope helped elect.

So we no longer need to ask which McCrory we will be getting as the governor of our state. Now we need to be asking a much more scary question: Who is working for whom?

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