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Populist Backlash Crushes Art Pope's Forces in North Carolina

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North Carolina's right-wing political boss, Art Pope, is having a bad week.

One week after a searing profile appeared in the New Yorker, Pope's ultra-conservative ticket fell under the crushing weight of a populist uprising merged with a Democratic steamroller in the highly anticipated elections for Wake County School Board.

Running in a heavily Republican district, Democrat Susan Evans beat Pope's handpicked Republican ringleader, Ray Margiotta, in what is being described as a "stunning upset."

In 2009, Pope's band of radical Republicans seized control of Wake County Schools and launched a reactionary reorganization of the system. Under the mantra of "neighborhood schools," Margiotta and his Republican radicals set about the deliberate deconstruction of the longstanding policy of cultural and racial diversity and began rolling back decades of desegregation. The president of the NAACP in North Carolina, the Rev. William Barber told the New Yorker, "the first thing the school board did was start putting black children back into their so-called neighborhoods."

Prior to Pope's Republican takeover, the Wake County school system was celebrated as a model of racial diversity.

With five seats up for grabs this year, Democrats won four seats outright with massive pluralities in three districts:

  • District 4 - Keith Sutton - 84%
  • District 5 - Jim Martin - 67%
  • District 6 - Christine Kushner - 59%

Upsetting the political odds-makers, Ray Margiotta went down to defeat in District 8 where Susan Evans received 52% of the vote.

In one district, there will be a runoff. Democratic incumbent, Kevin Hill, received 49.7% of the vote against his Republican challenger, Heather Losurdo, who polled 40%. Against the odds, Losurdo has called for a runoff even though Hill is now the heavy favorite.

All in all, Wake County dealt a decisive blow against the well-financed Pope political machine that Jane Mayer recently placed under the microscope in a probing feature that appeared in the New Yorker.

Now ranked as New Yorker's ace political reporter, Jane Mayer dissected Pope's political machine in "State for Sale." Mayer detailed the Machiavellian political maneuverings, chicanery and crass manipulations of the North Carolina electorate by billionaire retailer, Art Pope.

Mayer described Pope as the fortunate scion of an established retailing dynasty who morphed into an arrogant arch-conservative. Pope's billions stem from his inheritance of a string of tacky discount warehouses where he sells shoddy sweatshop merchandise imported from mainland China to low-income consumers in North Carolina, many of whom are African-Americans. To relieve the tedious boredom of operating his chain of dingy discount warehouses, Pope funds a cluster of right-wing organizations that back the state's most radical and reactionary Republicans who zealously support segregation, homophobia, creationism and the entire gamut of radical dogma.

Knowledgeable political observers in Wake County believe that the majority of the school board will return to Democratic control when Kevin Hill's runoff is held on November 8th. If those predictions prove correct, Hill's election will bring to an end two harrowing years of reactionary radicalism and re-segregation led by Pope and his now defeated henchman, Ray Margiotta.

For many empirical reasons, North Carolina is deemed to be the central battleground state in the 2012 election cycle. Next year, the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte, the state's most populous city. The home of the troubled Bank of America, Charlotte is second only to New York as America's largest center of banking and finance.

The popular at-large candidate for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board, Lloyd Scher observed, "The school board election in Wake County is a huge win for the teachers and students. This shows that the voters are listening. The people are rejecting the ultra-right, and this is really a positive sign."

The Raleigh school board elections are already being read as a harbinger of a populist surge that appears to be building through numerous local Occupy Wall Street demonstrations now proliferating across the face of North Carolina's cities: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Asheville, Fayetteville and Charlotte.

The significance of the backlash in Wake County's school board elections is clear and ominous for Art Pope and his allies, the Koch brothers and their Tea Party movement. North Carolina has just provided the first tangible evidence of the political merger between the growing populist protests against Wall Street excesses and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party in a new kinetic political coalition aimed at the heart of Art Pope's radical agenda in the South.