2018 Midterm Elections

Two seek to sink Rep. Meadows reelection bid

Phillip Price (left) and Clifton Ingram (right). Phillip Price (left) and Clifton Ingram (right).

Since 2012, Western North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District has been represented by Asheville Republican Rep. Mark Meadows, a Florida native who moved to the region in 1986. Meanwhile, Meadows has enjoyed great electoral success and become the standard-bearer for what remains of the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party nationwide.

That makes him well-suited for the sprawling, mostly rural district, which is 91 percent white and, according to noted political analyst Charlie Cook, 64 percent Republican. The 16 counties in the district — with the notable exception of Buncombe County, which is split in Meadows’ favor to exclude much of liberal Asheville — contain almost 6,500 square miles, making it about 15 percent larger than the entire state of Connecticut. 

“I’ve put over 50,000 miles on my truck driving around Western North Carolina, attending every event, every parade, every festival, every pancake breakfast, barbecue potluck dinner that I can get to, and just meet as many people and getting to know what issues are on peoples minds,” said Phillip Price, Democratic nominee for the 11th District. “I think that’s how we’re going to beat him — that’s how we’re going to win this election.”

That’s a tall order, both literally and figuratively, especially during tempestuous times. Meadows won his first term in 2012 with 57 percent of the vote over Democrat Hayden Rogers while raising $1.1 million in the process. In 2014, he defeated Democrat Tom Hill with 63 percent of the vote and receipts of $533,000 and in 2016, he bested Democrat Rick Bryson with 64 percent of the vote and $530,000. 

According to fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission for the Oct. 17 reporting deadline, Meadows has raised $1.73 million this cycle, or about $2,640 every single day dating back to Jan. 1, 2017. He’s already spent more than a million of that, and still has more than $900,000 on hand. 

Price, on the other hand, has hauled in a respectable $222,000 since the cycle began, and has about $77,000 on hand. 

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Joining Price on the 11th District ballot this year, probably for the first time ever, is a Libertarian candidate, but Sylva contractor Clifton Ingram hasn’t raised anywhere near what Meadows or Price have raised. 

“I think it’s $142,” Ingram said. “I actually took my donate button off of my Facebook page. The Federal Election Commission doesn’t even consider me a candidate until I raise $5,000. I don’t intend to raise over $5,000 because there’s a lot more paperwork, and then you do need a staff because you’ve got to have a treasurer and you’ve got to have campaign managers, and it becomes out of hand really quick. I’m not independently wealthy, so I’m just out there to give to people a chance for kind of the ‘regular guy.’ I think that appeals to a lot of people here in Western North Carolina.”

Ideologically speaking, Ingram could fish votes away from Meadows by appealing to starboard-listing Republicans looking for an even smaller government than that which Meadows already seeks. Although Ingram’s impact on the race may be negligible in the end, when combined with the purported “blue wave” of support Democrats have been forecasting since 2016, he could be part of a perfect storm that prevents Meadows from earning a fourth term in the House of Representatives. 

Or, perhaps not; a common theme over the past six weeks amongst political candidates from county commission to Congress, from Caldwell County to Cherokee, is certain uncertainty over what role, if any, American’s most divisive President since Abraham Lincoln will have on this race and others across the country.

Smoky Mountain News: Do you think you can actually win? 

Ingram: I think there’s a chance I can win. I’m on the ballot. I’ve read that Mark Meadows has as much as a 99.6 percent chance of winning, so that leaves me and Mr. Price with a very small percent, but I think giving it up to the people and letting them have the chance, they like the underdog. People said a 16-seed would never win against a number one seed in the NCAA tournament, and that did happen. I think a Libertarian can make his way into the House. Why not now? Why not District 11? Mountain people are very independent and Libertarian-type people, so there’s a chance. 

SMN: How closely do you think Meadows is tied to President Trump, ideologically, and how helpful do you think Meadows has been for Trump?

Price: Those are definitely two different questions that demand two different answers. The second question, I would say quite a bit. The first question I would say, not so much. He has been helpful to him, but what his true alignment is, and his true aspiration and agenda, I don’t think what you see is what you get with Mr. Meadows. I think he has his own agenda. He’s got higher aspirations, and he’s doing what he needs to get there and accomplish those things, whether that is appearing to be falling in line with the president currently, that’s what he’s going to do.

Ingram: I think some people call him Trump’s lapdog. That might be a good way to look at it. But he’s also an establishment candidate, and a lot of people that like President Trump like that he spoke for himself. He’s kind of anti-establishment, and he couldn’t be bought. I don’t think you could say the same things probably for Mr. Meadows. 

How much do you think President Trump is going to affect this race, overall?

Ingram: This district was something like 60-percent Trump fans, and I’m finding that a lot of people really do like President Trump, so I don’t see where Mark Meadows, where it would do him any service to distance himself from Trump in this race. 

Price: I would think that he’s going to affect my race at least equally as much positively for me as he would negatively. Perhaps even more positively for me, just because of the #resist movement. 

Meadows is a well-known figure on these national talking-head TV shows. Do you think he’s doing a good job of representing Western North Carolina values to the rest of the country?

Price: Not at all. No. First of all, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Mark Meadows when he’s on TV, so I can’t speak to that with a whole lot of knowledge. I just know what I have seen of him and read from him. He speaks in support of the wealthier class, the top 1 to 5 percent, and the corporations that those people own. His constituency has a median income of $38-39,000 a year and they need help that his positions are not offering. 

Ingram: A lot of people think he is socially conservative, and therefore a good Christian man, and a good Republican man. I know that if he’s on Fox News people automatically trust him, and his face is on there a lot.

SMN: There haven’t been any debates in this race. 

Ingram: I haven’t been invited to any of these debates, and I haven’t seen Meadows at all out there, and I don’t think he needs to. Most people feel like he’s got this thing in the bag. And from what I saw on the Federal Election Commission, I don’t have the kind of money to compete with him. I’m not sure that Mr. Price does either.

Price: I believe the last town hall that he held was last fall, at Blue Ridge Community College, which I attended. So he’s nowhere to be seen or heard from in the district. For the most part, it seems that the appearances he has made have been very calculated, with special guest lists, invitation-only type guests, where he has been able to do some photo ops and report that he is touring the district, with evidence being the photos that he’s taken with the select audiences that are hand-picked and are obviously not hostile. He’s not interested in anyone with opposing ideas asking him questions that he doesn’t want to answer. 

With that being said, we have expected a debate, at least one debate with him, the one that’s held and sponsored by Western Carolina University. He participated in that last cycle with Rick Bryson, and we expected to participate in that with him and [WCU political science professor Chris] Cooper informed us that Mr. Meadows’ office relayed to him that Mr. Meadows was not interested in doing any debates this cycle. As far as I know the Henderson County League of Women Voters has invited him as well as me. Also the NAACP, one of the local chapters here in Western North Carolina has also invited us both and he’s turned that down. 

SMN: Is Meadows on the right track with his stance on health care coverage?

Ingram: From the Libertarian perspective, mostly we would like to get the government out of any kind of insurance and get as much choice as they can to people. 

Price: North Carolina’s legislature, GOP-held legislature, has denied the expansion of Medicaid in North Carolina, with Mr. Meadows’ blessing I would say, which has resulted in approximately half a million North Carolinians not having health care, and approximately 23,000 North Carolinians not having jobs that it would’ve created. That alone is why he’s wrong, the failure of expanding Medicaid. Right now, in this district, there are approximately 98,000 people that get their health care through Medicaid, 45,000 families in the 11th District who get their health care through the Affordable Care Act, including myself. It has helped me. I didn’t have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act was passed. 

This is one of the main reasons why I felt strongly that I needed to get into this race, because Mr. Meadows has tried to take away my health care numerous times, and has voted to take it away numerous times, and continues to threaten it and talk about how they’re going to succeed in taking away the Affordable Care Act, which will not just take away health care from 45,000 families in the 11th District, it would take away health care for approximately 20 million people in the United States — life-saving health care. 

SMN: The first four years of the Obama administration we saw budget deficits of well over $1 trillion. It was $1.4 trillion in 2010, and then in his second term it shrank to the $400-500 billion range. Since 2015, it’s done nothing but climb. Last year it was $779 billion, and this year it’s projected to be nearly $1 trillion. In this day and age, why is deficit spending a good thing?

Price: I don’t think it is a good thing. I think that if you’re going to have spending that results in a deficit, there better darn well be positive results from that deficit that are going to bring you back out of the deficit. Like borrowing money, using that money to make more money, and paying back the loan. It’s simple. I’m a businessman. If I were to borrow $10,000 and use that money to go on a lavish vacation, I’d have a hard time paying it back. But if I was to use that money to invest in lumber — which I’m in the business of — and I spent $10,000 and I bought some lumber that I was able to sell for $25,000, that’s a pretty good investment. I can pay back the $10,000 loan and use the other money to maybe go on a vacation. But you’ve got to pay the loan back first. Pay the bills. You’ve got to pay the bills. It just doesn’t make sense. We need to be investing in things, policies and programs that have a return on investment, which is what my platform is all about. 

Ingram: Both parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, are big spenders. Traditionally people think of the Democrats as big spenders but we’ve got a Republican administration that’s just as big — if not bigger — spenders than the Democrats. A lot of that has to do with military spending. My philosophy, and the Libertarian philosophy, is non-intervention. We need to quit spending so much money overseas and bring some of that money home. I don’t think most Americans would’ve chosen to spend trillions of dollars in Afghanistan and Iraq and all these other places that we’ve got our mitts into. I think we need to rein it back in. The deficit’s just going out of control. I think we’ve got to give the power back to the people and some choice in how this money is spent, because just giving it to the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s not working anymore

SMN: Contributing to that budget deficit, spending is up by $250 billion but tax revenue is only up by $100 billion. Wasn’t there just a big tax cut passed?

Price: There was, which is kind of the metaphor I was using with the vacation. The GOP’s tax debacle, or the “billionaire bailout” as I like to call it, basically they’ve borrowed perhaps $1.5 trillion over a period of time and what are they doing? Going on a lavish vacation, buying yachts, buying back the stocks of their company, buying third homes, raising the salaries of the CEOs of the corporations. There’s not a return on that investment to the middle-class as they led the American people to believe there would [be]. It simply put us in a much worse fiscal position and now, as anyone could’ve guessed and seen coming, they’re talking about, “Well now we have to figure out how to pay for this thing,” and of course we know where are they are going to go with that.

SMN: So why don’t we just cut Social Security? That’ll take care of it, right?

Price: First of all, we’re not going to cut Social Security, because Social Security belongs to the people, the American people. It’s not some sort of gift. The American people have worked hard, that Social Security is just a portion of their hourly wage or their salary that’s been taken out, held out in trust, that we the American people trust the government to have for us when we need it, when it’s time for us to start receiving that, when we can’t work anymore. For any politician to say it’s an entitlement — it is, we are entitled to it. 

But they make “entitlement” sound like some sort of bad word, like it’s something that we don’t deserve or it’s a gift of some kind, or some sort of welfare program. It’s simply not. It is part of our hard-earned paycheck, week to week, month to month, year to year, that we have put aside expecting that we will get it back. You put money away in your own personal savings account, you wouldn’t expect that somebody else would come along to say, “You know, I need to pay for this new Jaguar that I want to buy and I’m taking some of your money out of your savings account to do it with that.” That ain’t happenin’ and it shouldn’t happen with Social Security. It’s the same thing.

SMN: Democrats say a blue wave is coming — a tsunami of support for their candidates, nationwide. Republicans say that the red tide that swept Trump and many other GOP candidates to victory in 2016 isn’t ebbing. You’re neither. What have you seen out on the campaign trail?

Ingram: Everything I’ve seen points towards the Trump wave kind of sticking pretty high, but I think just giving people the chance to vote for someone besides a Republican or Democrat is a start, because there’s a lot of independents out there, and these are freethinking people. 

SMN: Our country is probably more politically divided now than at any time since the Civil War. How does a guy like you go to Washington and help us overcome that?

Price: We start talking about the things we have in common and not the things that divide us — there’s so many more things that we Americans have in common than there are that divide us. We need leaders that are going to focus on those things that unite us. 

Ingram: I agree, and I think that hurts America. They’ve tried to divide us along these party lines, and we’re all Americans and they’ve got people spittin’ mad at each other. It’s sad. Even at my Thanksgiving table, it can be really heavily Democrat on one side and really heavily Republican, and we try not to even talk about [politics], but that’s not the way America should work. We should be able to talk about issues. I think politicians should be able to vote across party lines. I’m personally willing to work with both parties, and I think that is what gives me an advantage as a Libertarian and on some of these really important issues — that I can vote along with my constituents, I can listen to my constituents and I don’t have to bow to the Republican speaker or Nancy Pelosi or all these people that control these establishment-type parties.

SMN: On that same note of overcoming all this divisiveness, tell me something nice about Mark Meadows. 

Ingram: I haven’t actually met the guy personally so I can’t say anything nice about him in particular, but I’m sure he is an OK person, I would think. I don’t know. You can’t get to where you are unless you’ve got some kind of nice personality. I really believe in the goodness of people, and I think demonizing politicians, demonizing people of color or people that have felonies – we need to respect each other as Americans and respect each other as having different viewpoints. I respect Mark Meadows and Mr. Price, and America, and that’s why I’m running.

Price: He chose a nice place to come live, from Florida. Western North Carolina’s beautiful. 


11th Congressional District at a glance

  • 2016 population 749,597
  • Median income $34,720 
  • U.S. median income $59,039
  • 90.5% White
  • 5.9% Hispanic
  • 3.5% African American
  • 1.6% Native American
  • 1.1% Asian
  • 46.6% urban
  • 53.4% rural

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