by Jordan Green
Rep. Mark Walker faces challengers from the right and left in his quest for a second term as representative of North Carolina’s 6th District in the US House.
Republican Mark Walker is up for reelection in 2016 after serving his first year as representative of North Carolina’s 6th District in Congress, but he faces opposition from the right within his own party while three Democrats vie for the opportunity to challenge him in the November general election.
As a former music pastor at Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro who won election in 2014 with the support of a tea party group formed at the church, Walker alienated some conservative supporters soon after being sworn in when he voted to re-elect John Boehner as speaker. Walker said at the time that a change in leadership “would have detracted from our conservative message.” In late September, when Boehner announced his resignation, Walker said he believed the speaker had “made the right decision,” adding that he “obviously felt the growing discontentment and has removed himself as an impediment.”
Walker later voted for Rep. Paul Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate, to replace Boehner as speaker.
Walker is facing pointed criticism from Chris Hardin, a pharmaceutical sales rep and reserve police officer with the Graham Police Department, who has filed to challenge the incumbent in the March 15 Republican primary. Hardin lives in Browns Summit.
“I just think Mark Walker has been a miserable failure as a conservative,” Hardin said in a recent interview. “You cannot be a conservative and vote for two progressives as speakers of the House. You cannot campaign from one end of the district to the other saying that you would vote John Boehner out and then vote for John Boehner, and then run for re-election saying you fulfilled your promise.”
Walker said the accusation is false and that those who criticize him on the point are a small minority.
“What I said is that ‘I would vote against leadership’ — and here’s where they stop, they don’t include the rest of the quote — ‘on any legislation that is detrimental to the 6th District.’ We have voted against the leadership. We just voted against the massive spending bill.”
Walker added that although he said on the campaign trail that he would support Rep. Trey Gowdy over Boehner for speaker, that wasn’t an option considering that it was Gowdy who nominated Boehner for the post in January.
Kenn Kopf, a Republican lawyer who lives in Greensboro, had launched a campaign website, but did not file for election before the cutoff at noon on Monday.
Walker won the Republican nomination after placing second in a crowded primary with eight other Republican candidates seeking to replace Howard Coble, the longtime representative of the 6th District. He prevailed over Phil Berger Jr. in a bitter runoff in June, and went on to defeat Democrat Laura Fjeld in the general election with relative ease.
Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district, but voters have historically favored Republican candidates as a result of conservative Democrats crossing party lines. The immense popularity of Howard Coble, who died in November, also created a bulwark against Democratic challenges. Coble carried 60.9 percent of the vote in the 2012 election, when the presence of President Obama on the ticket helped drive Democratic turnout. In the next election, the margin closed slightly, with Walker carrying 58.7 percent of the vote against Fjeld.
Pete Glidewell, a business consultant from Elon who has filed for the seat, sees an opening. Glidewell is the former chairman of the Alamance County Democratic Party.
“For the last 14 terms of Howard Coble, nobody could have touched him with a 10-foot pole,” Glidewell said. “Given that they thought Howard was safer, the 6th District was the one that [the Republicans] drew to have more registered Democrats than Republicans. The analysis says that in the last election where Howard was a candidate, there were 13,000 voters in Guilford County who voted for Howard and Obama. That’s a 26,000-vote swing.”
Glidewell faces Bruce Davis, a former Guilford County commissioner who is the board chair of the High Point Convention & Visitors Bureau, in the Democratic primary on March 15. Davis said his candidacy will appeal to independents, who make up more than 20 percent of the electorate in the district. He said Walker has disappointed some former supporters who expected him to be more moderate, particularly with his support for suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the wake of the recent Paris terror attacks.
“That’s taking a hardline Republican stance,” Davis said. “He’s taking the party line. That’s not what he said he would be about. He said he wanted to work across the aisle.”
Davis said he believes the current vetting process works well, and a pause is not needed.
“We cannot let these refugees down,” he said. “We cannot let down those who look at America as a safe haven. We are a nation of immigrants. We can’t live in fear. Fear is what ISIS thrives on.”
Davis ran for the seat two years ago, but lost to Fjeld in the primary. Davis lives in High Point and operates a daycare with his wife.
Glidewell’s views on refugee resettlement closely align with Davis’. Having grandchildren who are Native American informs his view of the matter.
“They tease me about being a pilgrim,” he said. “I understand the immigration system from a different perspective. I want to vet the heck out of them. I want to be what we are as Americans and welcome people from all over the world who are running from a terrible situation.”
Walker characterized his stance as squarely in the middle of the issue.
“I think there is an overwhelming number of people that are not anti-refugee, but they do believe there should be a short pause on our vetting process. I’ve actually worked in refugee camps. They’re able to say what they want to; they have a different process. My obligation is to protect the country if it means a delay in the resettlement process.”
To Davis’ criticism that he hasn’t reached across the aisle, he noted that 47 Democrats also voted to pause the refugee resettlement program. He added that Rep. Alma Adams, the Democrat who represents the 12th District in Guilford County, signed on as a cosponsor for the Human Trafficking Detection Act, the first piece of legislation Walker filed. The legislation would mandate training for Border Patrol and State Department personnel to improve interception of human traffickers.
Hardin, who is challenging Walker in the Republican primary, opposes allowing Syrian refugees to enter the country.
“We know there is a percentage that are radicalized Islamic terrorists,” he said. “I can’t tell you how insane that is to let them in when you know some of them are terrorists. If you had a thousand M&Ms in a canister and you put cyanide in one of those M&Ms, would you feed them to your children?”
A third Democrat, Jim Roberts of Pilot Mountain, said he entered the race to restore a voice in Washington for common people.
“There’s some things done in Washington that we’re losing our government from a democracy to an oligarchy,” he said. “The things being done are not in the interest of the people, and I want to change that.”
If he’s elected, Roberts said he wants to enact legislation to protect medical patients. A retired businessman who formerly owned a pest-control company, Roberts underwent surgery in 2010 and woke up paralyzed from his ribs down after being told by physician that he had a 97 percent chance of a successful procedure.
“I think there needs to be a National Patient Safety Board that would investigate every hospital death,” he said. “If two people die in an airplane crash, they go out and investigate. If two people go out and die on a commercial bus or train, they investigate. The hospitals are just able to hide deaths. We need someone to look into this, and we need someone to grade the hospitals.”
Glidewell, who has worked for a number of textile companies including Kayser-Roth Corp. in Greensboro and Hanesbrands in Winston-Salem, said his signature issue is restoring American middle-class jobs. He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
“Our manufacturing, middle-class working population is on a thin thread, and I don’t want to see them imperiled any more,” he said. “Two thirds of it is regulations that will never be enforced. They say working conditions will be the same in Vietnam as in America. We will never be able to enforce working conditions in Vietnam. If a company in Vietnam has a complaint against a US company, they can sue the US government. Our own citizens can’t even sue the government. We’re giving up sovereignty.”
Walker said he voted for Trade Promotion Authority, which he noted is different from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“It gives some basic parameters for negotiating the deal,” the lawmaker said. “I felt like that was good, as opposed the president just going in on his own.”
Having read two versions of the trade pact, Walker said at this time he cannot support the deal.
“There’s some humanitarian things I have some concern with,” he said, “especially with Malaysia and Vietnam, and some of the child labor laws that they have.”
Davis also views job creation as his top priority. With new leadership in the House, he hopes Congress will put a jobs bill on the next president’s desk.
“The middle class is a shrinking middle class,” he said. “The divide between the wealthy and the poor grows larger. If someone at the bottom doesn’t see any hope, therein lies a problem with the country as a whole.”