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

Impatient? Yes!

Cole McCarson and classmates had fun with questions and answers.Cole McCarson and classmates had fun with questions and answers.Meadows might well get re-elected as many times as he runs. He is in one of the safest Republican districts in North Carolina, a state that now has an abundance of safe Republican districts thanks to the 2012 remapping by a GOP-controlled Legislature. For now, and seemingly for the foreseeable future, Congress is where Meadows plans to stay.
“We’re never promised tomorrow but the answer is yes at this point we plan to run” in 2016, he says from the backseat of the black SUV that district director Wayne King is driving. Beyond that? “We take this one day at a time and one year at a time when it comes to serving. As long as we can be helpful to people we’ll continue to serve. Going beyond 2016 it would be difficult to look that far out.
“I had a lot of phone calls that encouraged me to run for Senate” when “there were rumors that Sen. Burr wasn’t going to run,” he adds. But as for higher office — a Council of State job or a run for governor — Meadows, 55, doesn’t sound especially interested. When people address him as “congressman” or “Rep. Meadows,” he corrects over and over. “It’s Mark.”
He may look like a congressman from central casting but how he got there makes him exceptional. He’s no career politician. Except for the rainy-soaked campaign 30 years ago, Meadows has been his own boss nearly all of his adult life. After owning the sandwich shop, he started his own a real estate company. Now he is one of 535 elected representatives in Congress, and as a second-termer not a high-ranking one. When a reporter asks, in view of that background, whether he gets impatient, Meadows, Debbie and King all burst out laughing.
“Do I get impatient? The answer is definitely yes,” he says. “I don’t understand what takes so long just to get an answer back from people. I don’t want our office to be symptomatic of what I’ve experienced personally.”
If bureaucrats block inquiries or requests for help, Meadows staffers turn to the boss. “The fact that other agencies know that I will call actually empowers the staff to get things done because (agencies) don’t want a call from a member of Congress,” he says.

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Meadows is a founding member of something called the Freedom Caucus, a small group that puts pressure the already conservative Republican Study Committee to move further right. He sends out news releases praising efforts to restrict abortion or repeal the Affordable Care Act. He praises Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy views and attacks Obama’s. He filed a bill to bar federal employees from watching pornography on work computers.
Yet when he’s asked about his priorities in Congress, he mentions none of those things. Instead, he names the Highway Trust Fund deficit, hardly the sort of political conflict that would land him on Fox News. He’s been on Fox quite a bit. The green room is tiny, he says, and it’s impressive how fast producers whisk interview subjects in and out of the studio. One night he left a formal dinner, changed out of his tuxedo, did a Fox interview, put the tux back on and returned to the dinner. Other guests might have thought he had done nothing more than visit the men’s room.

He can pivot, too

Mark Meadows speaks to AP History class at North Henderson High School.Mark Meadows speaks to AP History class at North Henderson High School.Asked what happened to Chief of Staff Kenny West, who is no longer with his office, Meadows demonstrates that he can pivot with the best of them.
“We’re going through a reorganization right now,” he says. “We’re hoping to make an announcement in the coming weeks. Really it’s just more a function of needing him fulltime in Washington, D.C. He’s got a wife and family here and that’s been a bigger part of it. It’s changing the direction for me.”
He’d much rather talk about constituent service.
Riding from one stop to the next, he calls volunteer fire departments in Connelly Springs and Caldwell County to let fire chiefs know their departments won federal grants.
“We got notification that you got an $18,000 grant and wanted to call you before anybody else knew,” he says in a voice-mail message to Patterson Volunteer Fire Chief Reggie Ford. “I wanted just to say thank you for your work and congratulations.”
It’s a part of the job he likes.
“A hundred-thousand dollars for the local fire department can make a difference whether they can have turnout gear or Jaws of Life or anything else, and yet we can waste billions,” he says. “As recently yesterday the IRS was announcing that $5.6 billion in erroneous tax credits were sent to people. The frustrating part for me is where do you start in trying to audit the IRS.”
He’s come to the conclusion that federal education “reforms” have forced teachers into too much testing and taken away local control. After federal interference, school people complain the loudest about the school lunch program.
“Trying to be healthy, we’re throwing away unbelievable amounts of food,” he says. Schoolchildren “can’t say ‘I don’t want that because I won’t eat it.’ They’re putting it on their plate and they’re throwing it away. It’s criminal.”

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A 12-by-18-foot painting in the Capitol Rotunda, called “The Embarkation of the Pilgrims,” depicts the Pilgrims on the deck of the ship Speedwell on July 22, 1620, before they departed from Holland for North America and religious freedom. A figure at the center, William Brewster, is holding a Bible and gazing heavenward. Meadows loves the image and he marvels at the 400-year thread that ties him to the man in the painting.
“William Brewster,” he tells the North Henderson High School students, “is my 11th great-grandfather.”

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