The thing about puppets


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The most important thing to remember about puppets is that is that they rarely know they're puppets, as evidenced by the Wake County School Board Sideshow, now on stage at the N&O.

Art Pope the architect

A newly released e-mail message from an official of the Wake County Republican Party to school board chairman Ron Margiotta gives credit to longtime state Republican power broker Art Pope for strong performances by GOP-backed school board candidates. Handed over by Margiotta after a public records request, the message was sent Oct.7, the day after the first round of voting for the panel in October. Another round of voting in November clinched control of the board by a new, Republican-backed majority that is promising major changes for North Carolina's largest school district.

A millionaire Raleigh businessman and former state representative, Pope has for decades backed Republican candidates and several right-leaning institutions, including the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based conservative think tank.

"I am fairly pleased with the elections yesterday - especially with the school board," GOP county finance chairman Marc Scruggs wrote to Margiotta. "Art Pope's plan [that] the GOP implemented worked very well - and THANK YOU for your help and service."

In the e-mail, Scruggs also tells Margiotta that the party will raise money to aid the run-off election efforts of school board candidate John Tedesco, a member of what would become the panel's new majority. Tedesco fell just short in October voting of gaining the majority that would have avoided a runoff; he won the seat in November.

"We don't have a solid game plan yet, but Art will be the architect," Scruggs wrote.

Repeated efforts to reach Scruggs and Pope by phone were unsuccessful. Margiotta said Friday that he barely recalled the e-mail and knows Pope only slightly.

"My involvement with the county party was extremely minimal, if at all," Margiotta said. "How much impact they had, I don't know how you measure that."

What could be more inspiring to the kids in Wake County than having a duplicitous puppet chairing their school board?


Wait a minute

I thought it was Luddy who was behind everything. (-;

I've been involved in the Wake County Schools politics for a few years and I can tell you my experiences. Groups like Wake CARES and WSCA came about because neither political party gave a crap about education. They all saw it as just another way for them to beat the other guy. So they went it on their own. Regrading these claims, this leaves two possibilities.

  1. Pope is full of shit and trying to make it sound like he is important when he isn't. I haven't met one person who got involved in school politics because of allegiance to either party. Many of them are involved in spite of allegiance to a party.
  2. Pope does have some measure of influence over the board members. In which case, he is in for a nasty surprise come the next election if those candidates don't deliver on what the vocal parents groups who got them elected were promised.

I have a specific experience that makes me think number one. I was sitting in a parents group meeting with some of the public players you see mentioned. A GOP political consultant was sent in by someone (I honestly have no idea who) and he was basically told to go get lost when he started talking about election strategies and how to reach certain groups of people. Basically, those of us who were the parents who were involved for a long time said "here are the issues, that's what the person needs to run on, nothing else matters."

It was never about winning, it was always about the issues. Pope may be funneling money into this because he thinks it serves his purposes, but if he thinks that the people involved serve his purposes, he is utterly delusional. No one seems to believe that these parent groups are non-partisan, but I have been involved and I know they are. I have been in rooms where life long Democrats have sat next to life long Republicans, working together. These claims that someone is pulling the strings just don't make sense. Those people are just trying to remain relevant to an issue that has taken off without them.

Luddy and Pope

Luddy and Pope are closely connected. Luddy's a key board member of the Locke Foundation. The agenda is the same. Pope planned the election strategy and Luddy is one of the point people for Popeville in the dismantling of public schools.

Margiotta is not only affiliated with Called2Action, but also the Wake Taxpayers Association and the Locke Foundation. And margiotta is on the board of Luddy's private school.

And if the groups are nonpartisan, then why are folks like Luddy big donors?

Why is the new majority having Republican Thomas Farr as the attorney for the board?

Why did Deborah Prickett thank Claude Pope of the Wake County GOP when she was sworn in?

Seems just a tad partisan to me.

Sequence of events

Chris, I understand what you are saying, but I think you are missing the sequence of events.

And if the groups are nonpartisan, then why are folks like Luddy big donors?

These groups came about without these big donors. In fact, four years ago I remember being part of a parents group and there were no big donors. It was all our own time and money. The Luddy's and their ilk came on board much later on. They jumped on the bandwagon when they thought it might go somewhere. My experience in the beginning that no one would give anyone the time of day because they knew they'd be smeared as segregationists. As parents, we didn't care because we didn't have any kind of public image to maintain like they did and we knew what we were fighting for. Only when regular people had done the hard work and it looked like people might actually be willing to make a change did these guys hop on board.

Want some objective proof? Look at the board elections of 2007. These people you reference were nowhere to be seen. But there were candidates with the same message as the ones who won in 2009. They didn't change the message, so how can you claim they are running the show?


There is no comparison between 2009 and 2007 in the Wake School Board Election. In 2007 there were 5 seats up for election. 3 were unopposed: Margiotta, McLaurin and, Gill. 2 others elected had nominal opposition: Clark and Hill. Wake County Taxpayers Association only endorsed 2 candidates: Margiotta and, Alfreda Wilson running against Hill.

Seeds of the current conflict were sown by Republican commissioners Coble, Bryan and Gurley in 2006 when they cynically endorsed a $1 billion bond over a $1.3 billion bond on the condition that it included year-round schools. They knew the anti-tax crowd would oppose any bond. They also knew there would be more opposition to the bond with mandatory year-round (MYR) included. Americans for Prosperity (AFP) teamed up with anti-MYR to oppose the bond, for different reasons.

The Republican strategy in 2007 was to cynically support a second $1 billion bond referendum to draw out the anti-tax votes combined with anti-MYR dissent. It included the creation of an astroturf group by AFP called "Wake Citizens for Quality Education". That never happened as it was obviously a political ploy.

Art Pope et al don't want to control the board or the public school system. They want to destroy it. They will never support more spending for academic achievement because they want private schools to be most attractive. Charter schools are a stepping stone to bleeding the school systen dry with voucher for private schools.

It's no coincidence that past and current trustees of Luddy's private Thales Academy with virulently anti-public school Kent Misegades as chair are school system critics or associated with Pope entities. Marilyn Avila, Chloe Gossage, Ron Margiotta, Richard Redpath (aka Deena Y Trebil) and Sarah Redpath, Kathleen Brennan, Keith Weatherly.

Pope et al have been at this a long time and have a long view. Conflict with the board have been fashioned into a coalition of wedge issues that have changed the board but are in conflict with each other. 2009 was a perfect storm for changing the board. Now the self-destruction will begin.

Pope's strings

Oh my goodness.

Mr. Pope says he's just an innocent bystander in the partisan purity parade in Wake County. I guess that's as it should be when you're the Puppetmaster. You don't have to get dirty yourself, just tug on Luddy's strings and let him do the heavy lifting.

Gives new meaning to the word "cabal."


James, less than a month ago, you were saying that the N&O "reports Mr. Pope's manufactured opinions week in and week out" and that they were "subsidized news". Yet in this case, the only place I have seen significant news coverage (as opposed to opinion work like that of Mr. Fitzsimon) of the Pope/Farr/Luddy is in the N&O. Just an observation.

Please understand that I realize Pope is indeed one of those behind the scenes power players with lots of money and is certainly not the kind of person we want with significant influence on policy decisions, particularly in education. However, in this case, as I said when I made my first comment here on BlueNC, the Wake Schools issue really has nothing to do with him or party politics. Ignoring the actual issues at play and throwing stones at Pope and his ilk will just keep progressives on the sidelines.

The old board members weren't voted out because of partisan loyalties or influence peddlers. They lost because the voting public lost faith in their leadership.

I had the same observation

I don't dispute that the N&O often leads the pack in good investigative journalism. I was pleased to see them doing this story, but that won't stop them from relying on other Puppets as "experts" in other stories. You're focused on this one battle ... I see a much broader war underway.

For the record, there appears to be much reason for dismay on all sides of the Wake County Schools mess. Art Pope simply saw an opportunity to exploit for partisan gain and did what he always does. (1) Throw daddy's money in to the mix, (2) foment disaffection, (3) capitalize on divisions among the enemy, and (4) pander to fear.

As you correctly observed, progressives stood by and watched.

All that said, the Wake County schools mess isn't anywhere near the top of my list of issues to track. Art Pope's pervasive influence, on the other hand, is. We've watched his money tilt the balance in state house races, intra-party squabbles, and in the media coverage of scores of public policy issues. He's putting his money where his mouth is, subsidizing universities, charities, PACs, think tanks, Astroturf organizations, and even private investigations. In every case, there are legitimate issues to debate, but the debate is never a fair fight. Non-profits on the left are out gunned and out-spent by Pope's army of puppets who dig deep, some would argue illegally, into electoral politics.

Thanks for your honesty

All that said, the Wake County schools mess isn't anywhere near the top of my list of issues to track. Art Pope's pervasive influence, on the other hand, is.

Thanks for being honest. As you have probably gathered, it is the other way around for me.

It takes a village?

I know it's the other way around for you, and thank goodness.

I'm not sure I understand all the inner workings of the mess over there, but I'm glad to have your help in keeping the discussions going. If there's one thing I've learned over four years of blogging, it's that conversations are the lifeblood of informed policy. That probably makes me a Marxist!


This is likely the only place in cyberspace that I frequent can post that I view history from a Marxist perspective and have it get zero responses. And yes, that is a very good thing.


Chicken or the egg

"the Wake Schools issue really has nothing to do with him or party politics."

I understand what you're trying to say, Rich, but whatever the origins and reasoning of this (your) movement, it has become a chief component of Pope's attack on education policy and push towards the privatization of schools. It fits like a glove, and you can expect a (continued) avalanche of Conservative misinformation using Wake parents as their icing on the cake.

In addition to the writing barrage, another Pope tentacle Americans For Prejudice are coming out swinging to support the Wake school board's hiring of a Jesse Helms lawyer:

The measure is up for renewed discussion at Tuesday's board meeting, which will also likely include a showdown between advocacy groups. State members of Americans for Prosperity say they'll rally support for the new board majority, while BiggerPicture4Wake and at least one other group have promised to show up in support of the existing diversity policy.

Dallas Woodhouse, state director of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative-leaning advocacy group, applauded the board's action and charged that Tharrington Smith is too aligned with the Democratic party and with the system's diversity policy.

"It is in the board's best interest to have a legal counsel that they can trust," said Woodhouse, whose group is planning a demonstration in support of the board at Tuesday's meeting. "I hope that they very much inject partisan politics."

As you can see, this thing is fast spiraling out of control of the parents, and into the control of Pope's machine. But if you expected anything different from a Republican majority, you haven't been paying close enough attention to the Puppetmaster.

You are correct

You make excellent points, scharrison, and much of what you articulate is my biggest fear regarding the current situation. However, I don't think that your characterization that this is moving out of parents control is correct. I am certainly not some big player in this whole mess, but I can tell you with absolutely certainty that all those board members who constitute the new majority are 100% aware that they got where they are today because parents stood up and got involved. They know that those people to whom no one would listen a few years ago are the backbone of their support. Without them, they don't have the electoral clout to win no matter how much money Pope throws at it. WCPSS employs 18,294 people. That is more people than voted for board member in the two districts with the highest turnout last election. And that turnout, as pathetic as it was, was higher than ever.

What has me worried is that much like was true for the previous board for a long time, parents are willing to forgive a lot of other things as long as things don't go too far. I am concerned that the general public's level of "too far" happens way past my own. Which is why I am trying to get progressives to stop, as James said, standing on the sidelines, or, as I think, backing the policies of failure.

That it has been co-opted by those with no interest in improving public schools is no surprise to me or anyone else I know. Those people have been itching to find a way a in for years. However, what they will find, I believe, is that the change in Board makeup happened because of people, like me and many others, who do care very deeply about education. Any of the Board members who stray from that will know about it quickly. Ask Keith Weatherly, Apex mayor, when he thought he could get parent groups to back his choice in a Cary election based on party. Even though Weatherly has been a vocal supporter of parents concerns over the years, these groups looked at the issues and backed the opponent of Weatherly's pick. He was rather upset, but I think it taught him and many others that when it comes to schools, it is policy before party. I don't think that lesson has been lost on the new board members.

What could happen:

The new board scraps the diversity program and mandatory year-long stuff, and parents breathe a sigh of relief. Then classrooms begin to get overcrowded, kids are sharing books and cubbies, you're meeting newer and less motivated teachers every time you visit, talk begins about building new schools, but you don't get new public schools, you get private ones, because the school board refuses to endorse the need for a tax increase, and they're not worried about you voting them out because you don't want reassignments to start all over again, so then everybody starts talking about the need for school vouchers so you can afford the private schools, and you get mad because you have to pay more than other parents to send your child to school, and become a Republican! :O

Okay, that last part was (kind of) a joke, but I believe the rest is quite possibly the direction you will be headed.

Agree again

I agree again, specifically this point:

talk begins about building new schools, but you don't get new public schools, you get private ones, because the school board refuses to endorse the need for a tax increase,

which is why I keep screaming to get Progressives off their butts so that when the above comes about, the same parents who were motivated and active this time around have some support from those who will actually have the courage to do what is needed.

The problem was that the previous board didn't have that courage either. So, in my eyes, they were the worst of both worlds. They wouldn't pursue policies that brought about public support nor would they champion causes based on principle for which their might be only limited supported. To be blunt, they just pissed people off and did nothing of real value.

County Commissions control the purse

The Wake County Commission, which is responsible for providing funding, has been dominated by Republicans who have declined to fund schools at the level that they deserve.

Stan Norwalk is a Commissioner elected in 2008, whom I supported, who understands and advocates the need for funding education, which is the largest budget responsibility of any County Commission. He has numerous adversaries but he is aligned with your way of thinking and worthy of consideration. I have had many arguments with him and I always come away knowing he has an awareness of the various conflicting elements of the issue at hand.

It was a cruel and twisted mind in the early 1990's that redistributed much authority for education from the State to the Local Education Agencies but left funding authority to the County Commissioners.

Classrooms begin to get overcrowded

Well that horse is already out of the barn. Counties like Wake and CMS and Union and Cabarrus and Chatham and Johnston are already heavily populated with "learning cottages."

No one in those gated golf course suburban sprawl communities would dream of having a doublewide within two miles of them, but have no problem apparently sending the kids to school in one every day.


The measure of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. - FDR

Easy there

Well that horse is already out of the barn. Counties like Wake and CMS and Union and Cabarrus and Chatham and Johnston are already heavily populated with "learning cottages."

Modular capacity is not all bad, when it is used properly.

First, it is good way to minimize reassignment before permanent capacity comes online. It certainly isn't used like that it Wake, but it is a good use. The temporary space can then go on to serve the same purpose in a different location.

Second, having been through it, relying on temporary space while school age population is high is much better than having to remove permanent capacity when the demographics change. Think people get pissed off when you reassign their kids to a different school, wait until you see the reaction when you tell them that you are tearing down 'their' elementary school. People go literally bat shit crazy when faced with the prospect of losing the place where sweet Mrs. Larson gave them milk and cookies in Kindergarten.

Also my son is in a trailer this year and he likes it. He says it is quieter and when they have specials like art or PE, they get to go outside. By contrast when I was doing student teaching in an impoverished area of Atlanta we were in a trailer that had an old window air conditioner that was as loud as a freight train. So you had the choice between stinking hot (metal can + Georgia sun = oven) or deaf. Much like their wisdom in their implementation, the quality of modular capacity design and construction is widely variable.


The old board lost because people want certainty. People voted for the people who told them what they wanted to hear. The new board can't deliver any more than the old board.

In the short term Republicans will make nominal gains and position themselves for advantage in 2010 elections. Long term there will be negative impacts on Wake public schools.

The demographics of Wake voters are about 72% White, 21% Black, 2% Hispanic and less than 1% Asian. The demographics of Wake County students are about 52% White, 26% Black, 12% Hispanic and 6% Asian. Areas like Apex and and Cary with the much discontent and rapid growth are over 80% White. Wake County just hasn't come to terms with the needs of current students. Ham-stringing the board with year-round schools and other conflicts has not helped in focusing on academics.

Give them three or four years

Give them three or four years running things and there will be poor schools and rich schools, black schools and white schools. Private schools will boom as white flight from predominantly black schools leaves the Wake county public schools a lesson in the reality of the haves and the have nots.

I'm a moderate Democrat.