Does Bo know the 5th District?

A political newcomer takes on one of N.C.’s most influential members of Congress

Roughly two weeks after starting this newsletter, one of my first Brilliant Insights* about N.C. politics is being challenged. A political newcomer plans to primary one of the state’s most popular and influential members of Congress.

Bo Hines, a 25-year-old former wide receiver at N.C. State and Yale and a student at Wake Forest University School of Law, announced last week he would challenge nine-term Rep. Virginia Foxx next year for the state’s 5th U.S. Congressional District.

Foxx is the senior Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee. She would be in line to chair the committee if Republicans regained control of the House in 2022. Republicans need only a handful of seats to do that. Considering the history of congressional results in midterm elections by the party holding the White House (not good), the GOP’s chances seem legit.

Seniority matters less in the House than in the Senate. House leaders pick committee chairs, rewarding the members they trust to carry out the leadership’s policy goals. The Senate, instead, tends to automatically make committee heads of the senators with the longest service.

That said, as recently as 2018, the GOP congressional delegation was out-kicking the coverage. Foxx chaired the Education Committee, and three of the other nine Republicans were in leadership roles.

  • Rep. Patrick McHenry (11th) was chief deputy majority whip, trusted by the majority leader to gauge the sentiment of other Republicans about contentious bills and making sure the caucus had enough votes to pass them. Holding the post often serves as an audition for party majority leader … or speaker.

  • Rep. Mark Walker (6th) chaired the Republican Study Committee, the policy shop for conservatives in the caucus. It serves as the liaison between Republican representatives and outside think tanks and grass-roots groups.

  • Rep. Mark Meadows (10th) headed the Freedom Caucus, a group inspired by the Tea Party that once argued for deficit and debt reduction — Meadows filed a resolution to remove John Boehner as speaker — but then it became obsessed with defending Donald Trump. Meadows, as you know, resigned from Congress to become Trump’s chief of staff.

Along with Foxx, McHenry still has pull. He’s the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee. But Meadows and Walker are no longer in Congress. Walker is running for the open U.S. Senate seat in 2022. Meadows recently joined the Conservative Partnership Institute, a group that will try to recruit Trumpish candidates for Congress.

Right-leaning Tar Heels are losing clout in Congress. Losing Foxx would further reduce that clout.

Foxx also has long-standing conservative cred. Among other honors, in 2012 the John Locke Foundation gave her the James Knox Polk Award for Leadership in Public Office. She “was selected for her lifelong commitment to constitutional, limited government and for her dedication to enhancing educational opportunities for every North Carolinian,” a JLF release said.

So why challenge her?

I spoke with Hines Tuesday, and he repeated much of what he said in his introductory video. 

“I feel as if the people of North Carolina deserve a representative whose values align with themselves,” he told me. I asked for examples. 

While “Representative Foxx has served honorably and well,” and “I think a lot of our value systems align,” he said, he wants to focus on other issues he says she should have emphasized more.

Infrastructure is one. Not just broadband access, but the basic bane of Western North Carolinians’ existence since, well, Daniel Boone: roads.

As a Wilkes County native, I get it. It was 2003 before U.S. 421, the main east-west traffic corridor in the northern part of the state, became an uninterrupted four-lane highway between Boone and Sanford. It’s still not 100% freeway; traffic lights remain in Wilkesboro (near Wilkes Community College and Merlefest), and at least one other intersection west of town. 

The Waybacks and friends cover “Sticky Fingers” at Merlefest’s Hillside Album Hour, 2009. (Photo by me)

That’s just one highway, albeit a major one. Many of the county seats in the western foothills and mountains remain connected by narrow, two-lane highways. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which bars commercial traffic, is in better condition than most “major” highways nearby.

Eastern North Carolina Democrats have starved westerners of the essential means of travel and transportation. We were able to catch up somewhat under the Republican administrations of Govs. Jim Holshouser, Jim Martin, and Pat McCrory.

Hines said he understands the federal government has a limited role in state-level transportation funding. But the struggle continues.

Share Deregulator

Another of his big worries is trendy, and overblown: “big tech censorship.” 

I’ll delve into this more in — you guessed it — future posts. 

For now, remember. Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter can censor no one. The First and 14th Amendments bar Congress and the states from denying freedom of speech and the rest. Private companies — unless they’re given monopoly powers … by governments — can pick and choose whose voices they wish to publish or amplify.

Government attempts to regulate online publishers — gutting Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, for instance — will lead to actual censorship.

Don’t get me wrong. Cancel culture exists. 

Ask the University of Tennessee grad student who was almost expelled for anonymous social media posts (and is being defended by the great folks at The FIRE). Consider the Orwellian treatment former New York Times COVID reporter Donald McNeil received. (And the paper’s subsequent defense of “1619 Project” leader Nikole Hannah-Jones.)

Or take the San Francisco Unified School District. Please.

Sadly, these instances may be widespread. But they’re not orchestrated by social media platforms or search engines.

(For her part, Foxx isn’t 100% innocent. One of her October constituent newsletters complained of “censorship” by Twitter and Facebook. She also voted to decertify Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes during the January 6 nightmare. Sigh.)

I contacted Foxx’s office for comment Tuesday and hadn’t received a response before filing.

So again, why the 5th? Hines told me he’s most familiar with the area north and west of Charlotte and the northwest corner of the state. That’s where he’s been meeting voters.

But, he told me, if the lines of the 6th District shift to encompass some of the northwest, or more counties along the Virginia border, then he may go after freshman Democrat Kathy Manning in the 6th after all.

During our phone conversation, Hines seemed grounded more by policy concerns than the sort of “performative” problems I laid out in the earlier post. We may not share or agree on every priority, but he’s done some homework. He also made his political ambitions clear in this 2017 News & Observer profile by Joe Giglio. Congress, governor, maybe POTUS?

If indeed the newbie bests the veteran in 2022, the state immediately will lose leverage in Congress. Voters in the 5th District have to decide if that’s a worthy trade-off.

*Eyeroll emoji, sarcasm hashtag, etc., welcome.