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NC has clout in Congress

By Rob Christensen

Raleigh News & Observer

In the new Republican-dominated Washington, North Carolina will have one of its most influential congressional delegations in recent memory.

The Tar Heel delegation is heavily Republican (12 of 15), very conservative, many with Tea Party connections and heavy on the testosterone, with only two women. The delegation includes chairmen of key committees, members of the leadership and congressmen in a position to influence the debate.

The state’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, are well-known, having both emerged from recent statewide elections. Burr is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while Tillis serves on several committees including the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold confirmation hearings on U.S. Supreme Court nominees, and the Senate armed services and veterans committee, which should take up important issues.

Less well-known is the rise of North Carolina’s House Republicans. They have been aided by stable House districts — ensured by legislative gerrymandering — which has enabled them to climb to positions of power without having to face strong competition.

Not since the Democrats controlled the congressional delegation during the period of one-party control nearly a half-century ago, and the seniority system still ruled supreme, has North Carolina had so many lawmakers in key positions.

North Carolina’s congressional clout should in theory benefit the state in GOP-controlled Washington, where on Friday a Republican administration will join a Republican Congress. But many in the delegation are small-government conservatives who may be reluctant to seek funding for local projects.

Consider some of the influential players:

  Patrick McHenry, 41, of Cherryville, is now the House Republican chief deputy whip, making him a leading vote counter in the House and one of a handful of House leaders who meet to make key decisions. The former N.C. State University student rose as a young political operative through the College Republicans, then worked for the likes of Elaine Chao and Karl Rove before serving a term in the legislature and winning election as the youngest member of Congress in 2004. Among the GOP leaders who have previously held his position are former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, former House majority leader Eric Cantor and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy. McHenry is on a career path to become a future House speaker.

Mark Walker, a 47-year old pastor from Greensboro, is chairman of the Republican Study Committee, a conservative caucus that includes 172 House members. Walker is only beginning his second term in the House. The group was started in 1973 by conservatives who thought the House GOP leadership was too moderate. The group pushes for budget cuts, except for defense, for socially conservative legislation and for free trade, and publishes an alternative budget. Among its past chairs are Mike Pence, Tom Price, Phil Crane, and North Carolina’s Sue Myrick.

Virginia Foxx, a 73-year old former community college president and state legislator from Banner Elk, is the new chairwoman of the House Education and Workforce Committee. The seven-term House member told Politico she hopes to repeal President Barack Obama’s education legacy. Among other goals, she wants to divert the billions of dollars in federal aid awarded under Title 1 for poor students and use it for school vouchers. She is a strong supporter of President-elect Donald Trump’s $20 billion school-choice plan that emphasizes vouchers. She wants to re-examine the emphasis on transgender rights in the Education Department’s civil rights division. She wants to shift college loan programs back to banks and reverse regulations targeting for-profit colleges that cut off financial aid to programs that leave students with high debt and poor job prospects.

Mark Meadows, a 57-year old real-estate developer from Highlands, is chairman of the 31-member House Freedom Caucus. The conservative group threatened a government shutdown in 2013 over defunding Obamacare and helped push out House Speaker John Boehner.

Robert Pittenger, 68, a real-estate investor from Charlotte, is chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and has met with leaders around the world. He is in his third term.

Richard Hudson, 45 of Concord, is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation and brings savvy, having worked as an aide to four congressmen and a staffer for the state Republican Party. The third-term congressman was behind a letter, signed by eight other Tar Heel Republicans this week, that called on the Obama administration to block Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposal to join the other 32 states that have expanded Medicaid insurance to the working poor.

There are Republicans in the delegation who do not chair committees but bring their own strengths. Both David Rouzer of Benson and George Holding of Raleigh are former congressional staffers. Farmville Rep. Walter Jones’ skepticism about the Iraq war and opposition to illegal immigration aligns with Trump.

The three Democrats also bring a wealth of experience. David Price of Chapel Hill is a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and has played a major role over the years in helping obtain funding for Triangle universities and for research. G.K. Butterfield of Wilson recently stepped down as chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and was a close ally of Obama. Alma Adams of Greensboro is a veteran state legislator.

Rarely has there been a congressional group from North Carolina as likely to make an imprint on the national debate.

Rob Christensen has covered politics for The News & Observer of Raleigh for nearly four decades. Write to him at rchristensen@newsobserver.com.

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