Meadows finds that homework is the first lesson for new Congressman
Give a U.S. congressman a cookie, and he can eat it. But offer him some free pancakes, and he’ll have to pass.
“I can eat a pig in a blanket, but God forbid if it’s a hot dog. If it’s a hot dog, I can’t take it,” said newly elected Congressman Mark Meadows about being able to accept an hors d’oeuvre but not a meal according to a set of ethical rules that all members of Congress must follow.
Reading the ethics code is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything a new Congressman must accomplish during the brief interval between their election date in November and the start of the U.S. House of Representatives next session in early January.
Meadows must find a place to stay while in Washington, D.C. He must hire staff members to help him answer constituent calls, maintain his meeting schedule and keep him abreast of the myriad bills attempting to make their way through Congress.
He must study up on legislative items will likely to come up for discussion or a vote during the upcoming session, and get acquainted with the committees he will serve on.
And then, there is the minutia that comes with any new job: what to decorate the walls of his new office with. For the record, he’s still flushing out that one.
“It’s a huge learning curve,” said Meadows, a Republican from Cashiers who will represent much of Western North Carolina in D.C. “Jan. 3, I am expected to know it.”
Meadows ran a successful campaign against Hayden Rogers, a Blue Dog Democrat who served as chief of staff to outgoing U.S. Rep. Heath Shuler, D-Waynesville. And come Jan. 3, Meadows, sporting a blue tie with the Congressional seal on it, will stand with the other 434 members of the U.S. House of Representative and take the oath of office.
Philosophy versus pragmatism
Meadows was appointed to three committees: Transportation and Infrastructure, Oversight and Government Reform, and Foreign Affairs.
As a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Shuler also served on, Meadows said he hopes to expand broadband Internet access and build more roads throughout WNC. Economic leaders and politicians throughout the area have touted those two infrastructure needs as key to attracting jobs.
During his campaign, Meadows’ motto was less government and less spending. Now, as a member of the committee on oversight and government reform, Meadows said he wants to look at different government agencies and processes to see if there are any redundancies that could be eliminated to save money.
“And if we are (operating efficiently), then it’s good government, and we should support it regardless of whether it has a ‘D’ or an ‘R’ behind it. But, if it’s not, then we need to look at it,” Meadows said.
Specifically, Meadows mentioned reviewing government environmental agencies.
“Some of the environmental agencies have gotten way out of control,” he said.
Leading up to his inauguration as a U.S. representative, Meadows has spoken with leaders of the committees. The rhetoric repeated by them is generally: “We are a team. We need to be a team. We need to be a team,” he said.
However, with a Republican-led House and a Democrat in the White House, variants of the word “teamwork” will likely be void of meaning when it actually comes to getting something done.
President Obama’s re-election and the Democratic majority in the Senate means that the Republicans in the House will not get an opportunity to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act — one of Meadows’ and other Republicans’ stated goals for the next two year. But they have had to abandon that plan.
Meadows said he will no longer work to repeal the act, which was dubbed “Obamacare” by opponents but will look at changing individual portions of the bill rather than the entire law.
“Would I love to repeal “Obamacare?” Yeah, that hasn’t changed,” Meadows said. “The reality is you don’t have a Republican in the White House. There is no way a full repeal of the Affordable Care Act is going to happen.”
The Asheville Citizen-Times wrote that Meadows, who staunchly opposed the Affordable Health Care Act during the primary, had softened his position on the matter.
“My position hasn’t been tempered. My position has been consistent,” Meadows said. “What we really have to do is we have to take a different strategy.”
Meadows repeatedly stated that his Congressional seat in Washington is not his but the people of Western North Carolina’s, and his job is to represent the residents’ views. However, Meadows said he would have to follow his conscience if voting on a moral matter, such as abortion, even if his constituents disagreed with him.
“If it’s a moral conviction, I would have to vote my moral conscience,” Meadows said. But, “Very few decisions on Capitol Hill are moral. Most of them are judgmental.”
Given Meadows’ conservative Christian background and the socially conservative nature of the mountain people, it may be a bridge Meadows never has to cross.
Family and district first
While some Congressmen jointly rent apartments and bunk together while in Washington, Meadows plans to get his own place for him and his wife, who will travel back and forth with him. His 19-year-old daughter, who currently attends Lee University in Tennessee, will also spend time interning with his office.
However, Meadows said he plans to only spend Monday through Thursday, when Congress is in session, in D.C.
“If we’re not taking votes and there’s not anything going on from a congressional standpoint, I’ll be in the district. This is home,” Meadows said of WNC. “People don’t vote for you up in Washington, D.C. They vote for you here in the district. So, it’s making sure we have a focus here.”
Whenever he cannot return to WNC, Chris McClure, his former campaign manager, will act as a spokesman for Meadows. Throughout the year, McClure will gather input from constituents on various topics.
Meadows appointed Kenny West of Hayesville, who twice ran for Congress in the Republican primary, to be his chief of staff.
West, 55, made a bid for Congress back in 2010 as well as this past year, with a campaign heavily focused on a devotion to God, country and family values.
West is originally from Georgia and moved to Clay County about 12 years ago, where he lived while working in sales jobs for national corporations.
After losing the primary, West offered to help Meadows’ campaign. Meadows said he chose West for his managerial skills and because of his knowledge of the district.
“I wanted to make sure whatever chief of staff we had had a real district focus,” Meadows said.
To keep up-to-date on voter sentiments and concerns, Meadows plans to host town hall meetings and focus groups throughout his two-year term.
“One of the things that we would love to say is we have given more access and allowed for more input from the district than has ever been seen,” Meadows said.
Another marker of success, Meadows said, will be how well he and his staff can respond to constituents’ requests.
“Everybody wants to be treated the same until it comes to them, and then, they wanted to be treated special. So, if we can treat every request as the most important request that has ever been made and deal with it, then we will be successful. That will be hard to do,” he said.
Meadows will have several offices around Western North Carolina, including one in the Haywood County Justice Center on Main Street in Waynesville. The offices will give people an easy way to contact his staff and give him a presence in the region even when he is away in Washington, D.C.
“Heath (Shuler) has done, I think, an admirable job making his presence known in the community, and so, we would like to make sure we cannot only continue that but do a better job of that,” Meadows said.
Meadows added that he would also like to continue to serve as an advocate for agriculture in WNC as Shuler has done.
“I would give him kudos on that particular area,” Meadows said.