Man of the hour: The rise of Mark Meadows

Milton Ready Courtesy photo


If you believe John Boehner, the Republican former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mark Meadows is “an idiot.” A great many in Washington, even in his own party, share that view and worse. Still, many people reading this will know him as North Carolina’s 11th District congressional representative, the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus and one of Donald Trump’s closest allies. To others, however, he’s a status-anxious person who desperately wanted to replace John Kelly as White House chief of staff.

Yet in many ways, Meadows’ rise to power represents not only the Trumped up times in which we live but also the state of North Carolina today.

First and foremost, Meadows isn’t really from North Carolina but from Florida. He’s a businessman with little political experience and no public service before 2013, all hallmarks of a new class of politicians in American life. A lot of Floridians and retirees have moved to Western North Carolina since the 1980s, probably in larger numbers than Hispanics, and politically they are far more important, at least for now. He also represents the “greed is good” credo of Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street and the dominance of business values in American society.

Meadows opened Aunt D’s, a small restaurant in Highlands, later sold it, and subsequently founded a real estate and development company in the Tampa, Fla., area. In 2011, he moved to Glenville in Jackson County, just outside Cashiers, and then to South Asheville. You will find Meadows’ name associated with real estate and development businesses in and around Macon County.

Like many outsiders, Meadows quickly recognized the fragility and vulnerability of North Carolina’s political parties and structure, easily becoming the chair of Macon County’s Republican Party and a delegate to state and national Republican conventions. In 2012, he ran for office, seeking to represent North Carolina’s recently gerrymandered 11th Congressional District: the safest and reddest in the state. He was elected, and there he has remained.

Yet perhaps the most interesting detail about Mark Meadows’ rise can be found in his opportunistic nexus with the takeover of North Carolina by hard-right Republicans in 2010. The two are conjoined twins. At the heart of all the gerrymandering, voting suppression and outright fraud now prevalent in North Carolina lie the self-interest of people like Meadows and the self-deception of their supporters. Consider this:

Since 2010, Republican legislators have gradually ensured that, by hook or crook and despite an almost evenly divided electorate, Democrats will win only three of the state’s 13 congressional districts — the 1st, 4th and 12th — usually by overwhelming majorities. Meanwhile, the other 10 will be reliably won by Republicans, if with smaller margins. The 11th generally delivers approximately 60% of the vote to the Republican candidate, the largest percentage of any “safe” district in the state. North Carolina Republicans knew how to stop the 2018 blue wave and the inevitability of demographics, albeit with a slight hiccup in the 9th District. So egregious was the voter fraud there that the state Board of Elections overturned the results and ordered a new election.

Oddly enough, the future of the Republican stranglehold on North Carolina and the nation can be glimpsed through Meadows and the 11th District. Western North Carolina’s growth has largely been driven by an influx of Hispanics, second-home developments, tourism and older transplants, mostly around the Asheville/Hendersonville corridor. Surrounding mountain counties like Macon, Mitchell, Madison and Graham have either declining or stagnant populations and economies. As one wit observed, the only growth there is in cemeteries.

Without rural voters and the almost entirely white South Asheville suburbs, Republicanism in Western North Carolina dies a slow death. Currently, the 11th is approximately 90% white, 47% urban and 53% rural, all percentages sure to change as the region becomes more urbanized and Hispanics replace shrinking and aging white populations in counties like Mitchell. Factor in the looming 2020 census and an inevitable if delayed redrawing of congressional districts, and urban areas like Asheville, Raleigh, Charlotte and Durham-Chapel Hill, which are now effectively marginalized, will play a greater role in future elections while mountain counties like Macon and Mitchell will have lesser ones.

Yet Hispanics, the “shadow population,” might hold the key to both the 11th’s and the state’s future: Now you see them, now you don’t. North Carolina has the 11th largest Hispanic population in the nation, perhaps as much as 1 million overall. Roughly half are legal citizens, but less than 3% of the state’s registered voters are Hispanic, and although more than 35% of them cast ballots in the 2018 general election, they accounted for only about 1.8% of the total vote. Whites, meanwhile, accounted for more than 72% of last year’s votes.

With a collective purchasing power of approximately $385 million, Hispanics have substantially propelled the state’s recent economic growth. As of 2012, they owned 34,900 businesses, and that number has only increased since then; more than half of all new businesses launched in North Carolina since 2016 were Hispanic-owned. The demographics show that they tend to be younger, and in counties like Henderson, they account for perhaps 25% or more of the workforce. You can see similar impacts seasonally in counties like Macon.

Yet Hispanics have no representation either in the General Assembly or locally, making them the only sizable “voiceless” minority in the state. In many ways, they constitute a new, modern form of slavery brought on by an increasingly regionalized and globalized economy.

Mark Meadows will probably survive another election cycle or two as long as gerrymandered districts and voter suppression persist. Yet he’s likely to be remembered more as an anachronism, an artifact of the Tea Party’s dominance in North Carolina, than as someone who bettered residents’ lives overall.

Retired UNC Asheville history professor Milton Ready lives in the mountains of Western North Carolina.



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13 thoughts on “Man of the hour: The rise of Mark Meadows

  1. Mike R.

    Interesting history on Meadows. Thank you for these insights.
    The country is moving towards such polarization on many fronts that I think some form of civil conflict (maybe war) is coming.

  2. C-Law

    Wasted space that should have been applied to keeping up the pressure on the real local issues that actually affect your local readers–the utter corruption, waste, and rot happening within the Asheville City and Buncombe County governments!

    I’ve read this old lefty prof’s other pieces, they’re utterly predictable and worthless to the life of any local reader. Milt actually believes there is a difference in the Democan/Republicrat/Uniparty system we live under. What a dope! Useful idiot!

    • luther blissett

      Please name three positive things that Meadows has done for his district since being elected.

  3. grimatongueworm

    Voter disenfranchisement, voter roll purging , election fraud (NC-9), failing to secure US elections from foreign interference (McConnell just blocked the 3rd bill aimed at securing elections). It’s almost like Republicans don’t want people to vote.

  4. Enlightened Enigma

    Meadows did not ‘desperately want’ to become White House Chief of Staff. Wrong interpretation.

    Like many Floridian/Carolinians, Rep. Meadows has apparently has done well in real estate, like his predecessor, Congressman Taylor.

    For decades during the 150+ NC democrackkk choke hold on our state, gerrymandering was routine without whimpers from anyone…

    Voter suppression? no. yes.

    Election fraud in NC 9 is historical from the daze of Bladen Co tobacco man Lt. Gov. Jimmy Green, democrackkk protege of the vile Jim Hunt and forward…

    Democrackkks are scared because they know hardworking , and family valued Hispanics will NOT be supporting their government dependence agenda!

  5. Meredith Hunt

    First and foremost, Ready really isn’t from western North Carolina, but from hard knuckle Texas. I am afraid he is an example of why the humanities should no longer be “taught” in public universities. It’s a sad truth.

  6. Stan Hawkins

    Thank you Mr. Ready. Please keep writing these epistles that prompt many citizens to contemplate, how were the Democrats able to hold sway in Carolina for over 100 years?

    Was it because they were more noble, one should ask? (look up Felony conviction in 2010 of former Governor Easley-Democrat) Or, look up the history of former NC state representative, Jim Black – Democrat – plead guilty to felony charge of public corruption in 2007, and made deals with Feds to spill the beans on his many cohorts through the years.

    Yes, the Republicans came to power in 2010 not by hook or crook as you say, but on the heels of Democrat public corruption changing the palate of the citizenry. Nice try though, and keep it up please as we like to check up on those so called 100-150 years of “noble Democrat politics and power.”

    • Milton Ready

      First, Jesse Helms once observed that only the simplest believe that political labels taken out of context have meaning or significance. Almost any political scientist would point to issues and supporters and not labels as more accurate signifiers. Helms authored two of North Carolina’s most racist campaigns, one in 1950 and the other in 1990, the first as a Democrat and the second as a Republican. Hillary Clinton was inspired to enter politics by reading Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative” and, in 1964, campaigned mightily for Goldwater. In 1968, she attended the Republican national convention and only broke with Republicans because she believed Richard Nixon not a true conservative. Helms changed in 1972 and embraced Richard Nixon. In the 1960s North Carolina had more KKK members than the rest of the South combined and was known as “Klansville, USA.” In the 1970s, they took off their hoods and became Republicans where before they were Democrats. Donald Trump? He’s changed parties seven times and his mind almost daily.
      In all this, right-wingers, tired of being labeled gerrymanders, corrupt, racists, and sexists, gleefully project their bias onto Democrats and their “so called 100-150 years of ‘noble Democrat politics and power.'” They salivate at the notion that “creepy” Joe Biden somehow “assaulted” women as did Bill Clinton who they imagine also was a closet racist. Immigrants? The Grand Old Party of 150 years ago befriended illegal immigrants, many from Sweden and Ireland, two of the whitest countries on earth, gave them a path to citizenship, and even granted them free land grants, all from a Republican “mommy state.” Republicans back then consisted mainly of ordinary laborers in the northeast encouraged to unionize, poor midwestern farmers, and African-Americans in the South, not exactly the very bedrock of Republicanism today. They were called the Grand Old Party, not to be confused with RINOS today, and they made America great again after a devastating civil war. Yet Lincoln’s Republican ideals have atrophied in today’s Geriatric Old Party along with the compassion of a Bush or the empathy and humor of a Reagan. So how were Democrats 150 years ago able “to hold sway in Carolina for over a century?” Simple. They acted like Republicans today who would like to hold onto power for another 150 or so years. They suppressed the vote, purged voter rolls especially of African-Americans, invented the poll tax, an older equivalent of a voter ID, took away women’s rights, and made it a white man’s party. Oh, yes. Like Trump, they also tried to persuade blacks they were better off under their rule by promising them jobs, jobs, and more jobs, almost all vocational and dead end in nature while segregating them in neighborhoods to “protect” them from marauding whites with “legal” guns and nooses. Gosh, they even opened trade and vocational schools like Fayetteville State and North Carolina A&T to train and help them. North Carolina historically is a reactionary southern state where party labels might change but not overall basic attitudes toward blacks, women, education, sex, or “foreigners,” those who are not like the rest of us. You can erect a monument to that.

      • Stan Hawkins

        Your clarifications on “labels and stranglehold” is duly noted, thanks.

        If I understand your clarifying words correctly; it seems power has a tendency to corrupt everyone and labels are for show. So we are left to choose who we think is more upstanding, more morale or who will be more closely aligned with supporting the thinking of we the people. Sounds reasonable and history reveals that none are perfect.

        No monuments are necessary for simple messages, but thanks.

  7. Milton Ready

    Let me thank you as well. In an era of hyper partisanship and incivility, it’s good to hear from folks like you. Keep it up.

    • mcates

      You gotta lot of nerve spewing such hateful and dishonest rhetoric and then commenting about hyper-partisanship and incivility.

    • mcates

      The rhetoric YOU chose is a great example of hyper partisanship and incivility.

      Your chose of words: Idiot, status-anxious, greed is good, opportunistic nexus, hook or crook, stranglehold, dies a slow death.

      And of course the most hateful and dishonest comment you made “modern form of slavery”

      Might want to check the mirror next time, before you go out and trash others.

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