Demonstration targets state budget director Pope
Under a light rain, about 30 people stood near a Roses store off N.C. 54 on Monday to demonstrate against the discount store company’s CEO for his role in state politics.
“We’re really concerned with Art Pope’s extremist policies; we want people to know that this guy who owns Roses and Maxway and other stores has such influence on N.C. politics,” said Adam Sotak, organizing director of Democracy North Carolina, a nonprofit group that participated in the demonstration.
Organized by Democracy NC, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of North Carolina and other groups, the picket is planned to be part of a series of demonstrations staged near Roses and Maxway locations.
The stores are owned by Henderson-based Variety Wholesalers. Art Pope, the state’s budget director, is the company’s CEO, chairman and president.
“The picketers are not calling for a boycott of Art Pope-owned stores,” the news release said. “The purpose is to inform the communities surrounding these stores, North Carolina, and the nation about the ways that Art Pope uses his money to hurt the very people who work and shop at his stores.”
The groups said that Pope is a prominent donor who’s connected to accounts that contributed a significant amount of money to groups that, in turn, contributed to North Carolina’s 2010 state legislative races.
Republicans gained control of the N.C. General Assembly in the 2010 elections. The groups behind Monday’s demonstration oppose policies pushed through the legislature such as the decision not to expand Medicaid in North Carolina – which was a provision of President Obama’s health care overhaul that states could choose to participate in – and a new law that requires voter identification at the polls starting in 2016.
In a phone interview on Monday, Pope said he’s a Republican, he supports Republican candidates, and he’s donated to Republican legislative candidates. But he said he’s not the state’s largest donor, and pointed to other individuals and organizations that support Democratic candidates and policies.
In a letter to the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, the president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, he said Barber and other leaders have “announced a picket, a boycott against Roses stores because I donate to Republican candidates, while you and your allies support Democracy Party candidates,” he said.
Pope said the John W. Pope Foundation, of which he is a co-founder, is an endowed grant-making foundation that does give out millions of dollars per year to support a number of public policy groups, but he also said it gives to charities.
He said Variety Wholesalers has given money to groups such as Civitas Action Inc. and Americans for Prosperity, and he’s also served on the board of Real Jobs NC, a group that he said did provide funding in the 2010 elections through independent expenditures.
He defended Variety Wholesalers as a company that “provide(s) and create(s) jobs for many people, including African-Americans,” it provides alternatives for consumers to other “big box” stores, and pays out millions in payroll tax. He said the pickets to hurt the stores, the business, and the employees.
The company looks primarily to open stores in second- and third-generation shopping centers, according to its website, in areas with a population of at least 2,500 people within a mile, that has a minimum 25 percent African-American population within 5 miles, and a median household income of $40,000 or less.
There are 330 discount stores in the chain operating under the names “Super Dollar,” “Maxway,” and “Roses,” among others, in Southeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.
The company’s history dates to 1930, when Pope’s grandfather opened five-and-dime stores in small towns in North Carolina. He said his father later took over operations, and in 1957, the individual stores were consolidated into one company. The company acquired Roses Stores Inc. in 1997.
He said he would not respond to the groups in his capacity as state budget director, a role that he said he does as a volunteer, and accepts no payment.
“Rather than debate the merits of the issues, they’re seeking to retaliate against me because of my personal support for Republican candidates instead of Democrats and the Locke Foundation rather than Democracy NC; they’re seeking to retaliate against our employees and customers which is unconscionable,” he said.
There were participants in the picket on Monday, including Durham resident James Wahlberg, who had also participated in NC NAACP-led protests held in Raleigh during the summer. Wahlberg said he was concerned about the voter ID law and other changes.
“Those just aren’t the kinds of qualities I want this state to have,” he said.
Candace Carraway, who also participated in the demonstrations in Raleigh, said she believes the legislature was enacting policies that hurt the poor.
Carraway also said that the legislature “put interests of the 1 percent above interests of the 99 percent and that’s what today’s action is about.”
Durham resident Alex Johnson was headed to the Roses store on Monday. He said he saw the protestors near the road, but he didn’t know about the company’s connection to state politics through Pope. He also said he believe store employees should get paid more.