by Jordan Green
A “homeschooling mom” and Republican activist takes aim at ultra-conservative US Rep. Virginia Foxx’s right flank in a primary challenge.
Democrats have long dreamed of cracking archconservative US Rep. Virginia Foxx’s hold on North Carolina’s 5th Congressional District, which stretches from Forsyth County — including large swaths of Winston-Salem’s west side — out to Boone, in the state’s northwestern corner.
While numerous qualified and motivated Democrats, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board member Elisabeth Motsinger, have tried unsuccessfully to unseat Foxx, her greatest vulnerability might turn out to be on her right flank. Thanks to her election as secretary to the House Republican leadership conference, Foxx has found herself embroiled in a rift between her party’s establishment and insurgents.
Pattie Curran, a self-described “homeschooling mom” from Kernersville who has declared her intentions to file for the 5th District in the 2016 Republican primary, made it clear she’s going after the incumbent, not just running for the seat.
“As you know, my opponent is a member of leadership,” Curran told about 30 Forsyth County Republicans at a weekly conservative luncheon at the Golden Corral at Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem on Monday. “We have a leadership that is out of touch with the American people.”
As an example of a piece of legislation on which she differs with the House Republican leadership, Curran assailed the USA Freedom Act, which critics charge will allow the National Security Administration to continue warrantless wiretaps on American citizens.
“The majority of Americans do not want to be spied on,” Curran said. “The majority of Americans want the Fourth Amendment upheld. And the Fourth Amendment is clear that if you’re going to search anyone’s property, possessions, you must have a warrant.” She threw in a pop-quiz question, asking, “What do you need to have before you can get that warrant?”
“Probable cause,” a handful of people in the audience answered loudly.
“And yet we have a leadership that wants to pass the USA Freedom Act,” Curran said. “If it has ‘freedom’ in the bill, you can pretty much be guaranteed that it’s taking your freedom away, not upholding it.”
Not progressive by any stretch, Curran is an ardent foe of the Affordable Care Act. Highlighting the plight of two of her children who have a chronic illness, Curran argued in a 2010 exchange with then-US. Sen. Kay Hagan that the Affordable Care Act was hurting her family by causing private businesses to reduce benefits in their employee healthcare plans.
“I am glad that your children live in our country,” a plainly annoyed Hagan says in the exchange, which was recorded by WXII 12 News.
“Oh, you know I am blessed,” Curran interrupts, “and I want to pay for it. I don’t want free healthcare. Because I will sell everything I own to pay for my children. Because this is America.”
“There are so many people who don’t have the ability,” Hagan says in a level tone.
“Right, and it’s not my job to make sure that they have the ability to do it,” Curran says. “It’s not your job to put a gun to my head to pay for them.”
But much of Curran’s ire during her presentation to the conservative lunch club was directed at fellow Republicans, revealing a strategy of making her primary a referendum on House Speaker John Boehner, with whom her opponent is linked through the leadership conference.
“No matter how loud we seem to be, our representatives in DC ignore us,” Curran complained. “We were ignored on the Boehner vote. We shut the phone lines down; we made it clear. And we know that 60 percent of Republicans did not want John Boehner as speaker of the House. We were ignored on the $1.1 trillion spending bill that funded Obama’s amnesty, even though we shut the phone lines down.”
Curran acknowledged that Foxx’s $2.1 million campaign war chest will make her difficult to beat, adding that her opponent can turn to fellow members in the leadership conference for help if necessary.
“Part of the problem is that when you go to DC they sit you down in a room and tell you exactly how much money you have to raise for the [National Republican Congressional Committee],” Curran said. “And you have to be strong enough to say, ‘No, I didn’t come up here to raise money for the Republican Party. I came up here to represent the 5th District.’ And then they’re gonna tell you, ‘Well, you can’t be on any committees.’ And you have to be strong enough to say, ‘So what. Don’t care. Don’t put me on any committees.’… It’s pay-to-play politics.”
The charge prompted murmurs from the audience that the same system holds sway in Raleigh. As in Washington, Republicans hold control of both houses of the NC General Assembly.
Curran’s presentation clearly resonated with the conservative activists at the Golden Corral, including Scott Arnold, a Republican chief election judge.
“You said you might not get on a committee due to your not being an establishment Republican,” Arnold said. “I feel like you would be just as effective swaying other representatives to be more conservative even if you aren’t on a committee.”
Curran has found a helpful political ally in Brant Clifton, who operates the Daily Haymaker, a conservative blog dedicated to North Carolina politics. One post, in April, entitled “Virginia Foxx: Hatin’ on Heritage. (Lovin’ some Boehner.),” provided quotes of the congresswoman lecturing activists with the conservative group Heritage Action — with whom Curran is also active — and defending the House speaker. The post concluded, “It’s pretty clear this woman has become a creature of Washington. The folks back home are an annoyance. She’s forgotten where she comes from,” and then provided a link to another article about Curran’s candidacy.
Curran, who calls herself a “loudmouth” and “anti-establishment,” said she favors either Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rand Paul as the Republican nominee for president. She said she supports devolving environmental regulations and educational policy back to the states.
“Transportation’s another issue,” Curran added. “Give it back to the states. Transportation should be local and state. We shouldn’t have this overreaching federal government. It’s encroaching on our lives daily.”
Along with her constituent tangles with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, Curran attracted local attention in 2012 when she complained about an art installation by Millicent Greason-Spivak that was set up as part of the Piedmont Opera’s performance of The Crucible. Curran said she didn’t take issue with the fact that the work, which she described as a 3-D vagina, being exhibited, but she felt that there should have been some type of parental notification.
She said she is opposed to censorship, but as a member of Congress she also wouldn’t support federal funding for the arts.
“The federal government is not the proper place for funding the arts,” Curran said. “Where in the Constitution does it say, ‘Fund the arts’?”