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Quizzed by students, Meadows talks politics and spin

Sally Gross and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows take a selfie at North Henderson High School.

‘Looks like a congressman’

Even though former state Rep. Carolyn Justus famously endorsed Meadows during the 2012 Republican primary by saying that “he looks like a congressman,” Mark Meadows has not always been fit, nor was he a lifelong politician.
As a high school student in Tampa, Fla., he was “a fat nerd” who slimmed down after a girl rejected his request for a date.
“I went home and looked in the mirror and said, ‘You’re fat,’” he told a reporter for the Smoky Mountain News in 2012. “So, I started almost immediately to run a mile to lose weight.”
Although he leaves out the “fat” part, Meadows tells the North Henderson students that in his high school years no one would have predicted the nerd would serve in Congress.
“I was a very gifted student,” he tells the class but not socially skilled or political minded. “I was the president of the Sound and Lighting Club. That tells you.”
Meadows and his wife, Debbie, dated in high school, split up when they went to separate colleges and resumed dating when both attended the University of South Florida in their hometown of Tampa. Thirty-five years ago, after they honeymooned in the Blue Ridge Mountains, they came home to Florida, turned to each other and said, “Isn’t North Carolina great? We actually later built a little teeny house with our bare hands,” Meadows says. “We were camping in a tent to build this house. But we really loved Western North Carolina. Our children were both born in the hospital in Brevard.”
His son, Blake, is enrolled at Emory University’s law school. His daughter, Haley, graduated on May 9 from Lee University in Tennessee and got a job with a benefits company in Atlanta. Debbie accompanies him on his swings through the district. She helps write speeches. “She’s given me some of the best ideas,” he says.

Students ask questions

1MeadowsGesturesRep. Mark Meadows fields a question in Dot Case's AP History class.After they moved to Jackson County, Meadows and his wife opened a sandwich shop in Sylva called Aunt D’s Place.
The couple made sandwiches by day while Meadows studied for his real estate license by night. He sold the restaurant and became a fulltime real estate broker and developer. He did not have a burning desire to enter politics.
“Technically I ran unsuccessfully almost 30 years ago,” he says of his only campaign before 2012. “I’d been in North Carolina eight or nine months and just wanted to be involved.” He ran for School Board in Macon County. “I lost 14 of the 15 precincts. The only one I won is the one I stood out in front of in the pouring rain. I think I got the sympathy vote in that one precinct.”
The students in Dot Case’s AP History class are prepared for Rep. Meadows’ visit. Their questions are neatly written on 4x6 index cards and Case calls on them by name to ask their question.
Where did you get your political views? one student asks.
“I got my political views really more from my faith than anything else,” Meadows says. “My Dad was actually a Democrat. I registered immediately as a Republican. Nothing against him, it’s just where I was (and) my worldview. My world view has been shaped from my Christian faith more than anything else.”
The students have plenty of questions, and the class laughs when Meadows says a reporter has “hit the pot of gold” because of how tough they are.
How does he size up the large crop of Republican presidential candidates?
“If I were to predict right now, I’d say the frontrunner probably is in my opinion not Scott Walker even though that’s what you’ll hear,” he says. “I would say the frontrunner would be more Marco Rubio because he’s able to appeal to more segments of the electorate. I think Hillary, if she can manage this foundation crisis — and I say crisis because of the amount of money that’s come in, if there is a connection between special favors for a foreign government in that money it could be very devastating. If not, she will be the nominee and she will be hard to beat.
“We’ve keeping it unofficial in not endorsing anyone,” he said. “The minute you endorse anyone you become a friend of that one and a goat to nine or ten other people that are running.”
What does he think of President Obama’s proposed treaty with Iran?
“I do not believe the deal that we have on the table right now is a good deal for Israel or for the United States and the reason I don’t believe that is it doesn’t address several different things” including ballistic missiles, he says. It has insufficient requirements for enforcement. It does too little to prevent Iran from becoming “a state sponsor of terrorism.”
What does he do when he’s not being a congressman?
“We love to walk. On weekends when we’re there Debbie and I will take very long walks,” he says. While he doesn’t play as much tennis as he used to, he loves to hunt and fish.