Sunday, October 13, 2013

The myopia of today's American politicians - a sorry example

Congressman Mark Meadows speaks at the
Congressman Mark Meadows speaks at the "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally, on Capitol Hill, 10 September 2013. Photograph: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
I very rarely talk politics. I abhor it. But this story is local for me, and it's a stunner: an amazing case study in likely political 'self immolation'.
North Carolina's 11th congressional district was gerrymandered in 2011 to create a heavily Republican, 99% white district. They elected French-born, Florida educated, Tea-Party-backed Republican Mark Meadows to the House seat, replacing a local boy, home-town hero, and ex-NFL quarterback, democrat Heath Shuler.
Meadows, in congress for just ten months has been credited with being one of the strongest behind-the-scenes advocates of the 'defund Obamacare at any cost' movement (see his Wikipedia profile for more detail). 
The irony: Meadows' district is heavily economically dependent on Great Smoky Mountains National Park, on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and on the Appalachian Trail - every mile of the AT in North Carolina falls within his district. Apparently he's just now realized that--in the past week and a half.  His constituents are revolting and Meadows has "fallen conspicuously silent since the shutdown started to bite" according to this recent Guardian article.
Amazing.  An example of how voters didn't do their homework and got the wool pulled over their eyes.  I'll be watching his 2014 campaign with great interest.

  • Now, adding further background info from Wikipedia
    Mark Meadows' Role in the 2013 federal government shutdown

    Meadows has been described as playing an important part of the United States federal government shutdown of 2013.[10][11][12] On August 21, 2013 Meadows wrote an open letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor encouraging them to "affirmatively de-fund the implementation and enforcement of ObamaCare in any relevant appropriations bills brought to the House floor in the 113th Congress, including any continuing appropriations bill."[13][14] The document was signed by 79 of Meadows' colleagues in the House.[10][14] Heritage Action (which opened operations in North Carolina in January 2011[15]), ran critical Internet advertisements in the districts of 100 Republican lawmakers who failed to sign the letter by Meadows.[16] The letter has been described as being controversial within the Republican Party.[10][17] Republican Richard Burr, the senior Senator from North Carolina, called threatening a government shutdown over defunding the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as "ObamaCare", "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of."[18] In response to Burr's remark, the Senate Conservatives Fund bought a radio ad to attack him.[16]

    The New York Daily News said Meadows put the federal government on the road to shutdown, saying calls to defund "Obamacare" through spending bills languished until Meadows wrote his letter.[12] Meadows downplayed his influence, saying "I'm one of 435 members and a very small part of this."[12] CNN described Meadows as the "architect of the brink" for his letter suggesting that "Obamacare" be defunded in any continuing appropriations bill.[10] Meadows said that was sensationalizing his role.[11] The New York Times reported that plans to defund "ObamaCare" began soon after President Barack Obama started his second term as President, mentioning a "coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III",[16] who is the Ronald Reagan Distinguished Fellow Emeritus in the The Heritage Foundation.[19] In February 2013, FreedomWorks signed onto a memo which said "Conservatives should not approve a CR unless it defunds Obamacare", and Edwin Meese III was among the signers.[20] The Asheville Citizen-Times said FreedomWorks is a well-funded national organization aligned with the Tea Party, and holds lawmakers accountable by keeping track of how they vote, which letters they sign, etc.[10]

    John Ostendorff of the Asheville Citizen-Times wrote Meadows "said it's best to close the government in the short term to win a delay on 'Obamacare', despite the potential negative impact on the economy."[11] Ostendorff wrote that Meadows said he was doing what Tea Party members in Western North Carolina wanted him to do.[11] Meadows said his constituents wanted him to fight against "Obamacare" "regardless of consequences."[10] Jane Bilello, head of the Asheville Tea Party and political action committee said Meadows "truly represents us" on the issue of "Obamacare".[10] Meadows reportedly holds conference calls with members of the Asheville Tea Party, telling them what's going on in Congress, and about challenges he faces promoting their agenda.[10]

    Patsy Keever, vice-chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said, "Here we are in October and it's tourism season and our economy depends on that. We are shutting down the reason people come here."[11] North Carolina's 11th congressional district includes Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the United States with over 9 million visitors per year,[21] which is closed during the shutdown. And also parts of the Blue Ridge Parkway, a national parkway managed by the National Park Service and built to connect Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park. The Blue Ridge Parkway is not closed to traffic during the shutdown, but 195 federal employees along the parkway were furloughed, and about 200 concession employees were forced off work.[22] Along the parkway, campgrounds, historic sites, picnic areas, restrooms, and visitor centers were closed, as well as the 51-room Pisgah Inn on the parkway with 100 employees located 25 miles from Asheville, North Carolina.[22] The federal government owns the inn and the land it's on, and owner Bruce O'Connell has leased it since 1978.[23] The Asheville Tea Party protested the closure of the inn.[24] O'Connell filed a legal complaint, and the U.S. Department of Interior allowed the lodge to reopen on October 9, 2013 in exchange for dropping the complaint.[23]

    National Park Service data indicated that North Carolina would be the 4th most economically harmed state by a shutdown of national parks, with a loss of $4.4 million per day, and affecting 11,915 jobs. The state also has the 3rd largest number of jobs that are dependent on spending in national parks, behind only California and Arizona.[21] In public comments, Meadows stated he was working on a compromise that involved passing appropriations bills that would fund only parts of the government, such as a bill to fund the National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, National Gallery of Art, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a bill to fund the National Institutes of Health. However, partial or "mini" funding bills were rejected by the Democratic majority in the United States Senate.[11]

  • And ... further background regarding the redistricting that enabled Meadows to be elected: the changed boundaries of NC congressional district 11.
    In 2011 the NC legislature was in the stranglehold of the Republicans, and the 2010 census mandated a redistricting. The result statewide was a shameless 'gerrymandering' of the districts. Prior to redistricting, District 11 had been a mildly Republican district (purple, lower panel). The Republicans railroaded through this new map (top panel) in which all the liberal precincts around Asheville were moved into District 10 (dark blue). Their strategy worked. District 11 had been represented by former NFL quarterback and democrat Heath Shuler. When the district was changed, Shuler saw the handwriting on the wall and announced his retirement from the house.

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