N.C. is home to most conservative U.S. House lawmaker, new rankings show

N.C. is home to most conservative U.S. House lawmaker, new rankings show

- in News, Top Story
Rep. Mark Meadows (Image: C-Span)

WASHINGTON — North Carolina is home to the nation’s most conservative member of the U.S. House, according to a recent ranking of lawmakers’ 2019 legislative records.

GOP Rep. Mark Meadows of the 11th district in the western tip of the state earned a perfect score on the conservative-to-liberal scale, which was compiled by GovTrack.us, a nonpartisan organization that tracks government data and statistics.

That places the North Carolina Republican farther to the right than all of his House colleagues, including firebrands like Florida’s Matt Gaetz, Ohio’s Jim Jordan and Georgia’s Doug Collins — all fierce allies of the president who acted as his attack dogs during the impeachment inquiry.

But the Tar Heel State may not hold the distinction for long.

Meadows, a four-term lawmaker who led the once-powerful House Freedom Caucus, is retiring at the end of the year. He has said he still intends to work closely with the Trump administration, but he hasn’t divulged specifics.

Before he leaves, though, the so-called “Trump whisperer” will take over as ranking Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, the House’s main investigative arm, according to The Hill. Meadows has been tapped to succeed Jordan, who is expected to replace Collins this spring as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. Collins is leaving the post because he is running for Senate against newly installed GOP Sen. Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

GOP Rep. Greg Murphy, a newcomer who won a special election last fall to replace the late Rep. Walter Jones, declined to speculate on what Meadows’ absence would mean for the state. “We have a fantastic delegation,” he told Policy Watch in a brief interview on Capitol Hill. “We work together very well, Republican and Democrat, on issues that face North Carolina.”

On the other end of the GOP spectrum is Rep. Virginia Foxx, who — despite her reputation to the contrary — had one of the least conservative voting records in the GOP caucus last year.

She ranks 194th on the ideological scale.

When asked about her ranking on Capitol Hill, Foxx laughed out loud. “Dismiss that!” she exclaimed.

The analysis assigns scores to members based on the pattern of legislation that lawmakers cosponsor. The list does not take other factors into account that may affect lawmakers’ ideological stances, such as caucus memberships, media appearances, social media posts, endorsements in campaigns or their penchant for bipartisan friendship.

Meadows, for example, was known for his admiration for the late Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat whom Meadows considered a “dear friend.”

The rankings “can be interpreted as a conservative-liberal scale, although of course it only takes into account a small aspect of reality,” a disclaimer on the site states.

“At the end of the day, it’s really all about making sure my constituents know my voting card doesn’t belong to me — it belongs to them and their interests. If I can reflect that principle with my votes, it’s a good day,” Meadows told Policy Watch in an email.

An eight-term lawmaker from Winston-Salem and environs, Foxx is regarded as a staunch conservative, in part due to her vocal opposition to Democratic policies as the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Education and Labor. She received the American Conservative Union Foundation Award for Conservative Excellence in 2018, which is based on votes in areas such as government spending, immigration and social support programs.

Foxx said at the time that she looked forward to maintaining her “strong conservative record in 2019.” Her score puts her roughly in the middle area between Meadows and the House’s most liberal member, Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee of California — and to the left of all but a handful of House Republicans and even some Democrats, including lawmakers from New York and New Jersey. In 2018, she placed farther to the left: 216th out of all House lawmakers.

Most other GOP members of the North Carolina delegation fell somewhere between the two well-known North Carolina Republicans last year.

Reps. Ted Budd ranked 8th most conservative; David Rouzer ranked 26th; Richard Hudson ranked 42nd; Mark Walker ranked 57th; George Holding ranked 137th; Greg Murphy ranked 185th; Patrick McHenry ranked 188th; and Dan Bishop ranked 205th.

Two of those Republicans — Walker and Holding — are retiring; their seats are regarded as likely Democratic pickups this fall, thanks to newly drawn district maps.

Murphy brushed aside the rankings, saying simply: “I’ve voted very much in line with the people of the 3rd District and will continue to do so.”

Rouzer also declined to comment on the rankings. “I have no idea … what they base the criteria on,” he said.

The three Democrats in the state’s 13-member delegation leaned toward the liberal end of the scale. Reps. G.K. Butterfield and David Price were back-to-back, ranking 312th and 313th, respectively, among all 437 lawmakers scored.

“I’ve never liked these scorecards,” Price said in an interview on Capitol Hill. “Some of them make me look good from their point of view and some of them make me look not so good. … It’s hard just to take a numerical ranking and know what to make of it. There are people I’m sure all along the spectrum that I would agree with and disagree with.”

Rep. Alma Adams, meanwhile, was the state’s most liberal member last year, coming in at 370th — but still to the right of dozens of other members of the House Democratic caucus.

In the House, there are 232 Democrats, 197 Republicans, one Independent and five vacancies.

The list does not include vacant House seats; it does include the non-voting delegates from Washington, D.C. and U.S. territories.

Tillis, Burr rankings

On the other side of the Capitol, Republican Thom Tillis ranks as the 15th most conservative member of the U.S. Senate — to the right of 38 others in his caucus.

The score contrasts with his earlier efforts to brand himself as a moderate dealmaker in a purple state.

But the freshman senator — regarded as one of the more vulnerable incumbents up for reelection this year — has come under pressure to showcase his conservative credentials and embrace President Donald Trump in order to fend off a primary challenge from the right.

Retired businessman Garland Tucker dropped a primary challenge late last year. Garland was “potentially a threat,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of a nonpartisan political newsletter at the University of Virginia. Not so any of the other candidates on the primary ballot, Kondik said.

Tillis’ Senate colleague, Republican Richard Burr, aligned more closely with other so-called moderates in the chamber. The three-term senator (who has said he won’t seek a fourth term in 2022) ranks 52nd, to the right of only three other Republicans: Susan Collins of Maine, Richard Shelby of Alabama and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Both North Carolina senators voted to acquit President Donald Trump after his impeachment trial.

Two Democrats — Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Doug Jones of Alabama — earned more conservative scores than Burr. Neither voted for Trump’s acquittal.