Mark Walker Profile | Part 2 of 2
Editor’s Note: News + Record Reporter Zachary Horner spent parts of two days with Rep. Mark Walker (R-6th Dist.) and his staff on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, …
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Editor’s Note: News + Record Reporter Zachary Horner spent parts of two days with Rep. Mark Walker (R-6th Dist.) and his staff on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, sitting in on a meeting, conducting a one-on-one interview and observing other actions and the D.C. environment. This is part two of a two-part report from that trip. Part one was publised in the Sept. 26-Oct. 2 edition of the News + Record.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Make no bones about it: the main ideological focus for U.S. Rep. Mark Walker (R-North Carolina) is individual liberty.
It’s throughout his campaign statements and press releases. His conservative bonafides are mostly unchallenged. He’s a former chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the House’s most conservative group, and has repeatedly pushed for a balanced budget amendment. That latter item would require Congress to only budget to spend as much money as it receives in revenues — something required of state and local governments in North Carolina.
He tries to do that by building relationships and getting people to trust him.
“I think one of the things I learned early on six years ago when I walked away from the ministry, on the campaign trail, I had first thought, ‘I want to get through all these policy points,’” he says. “But here’s what I realized. People just want to know if they can trust you. And if they can trust you, hey, you may not agree on everything, and you’ve got fringes on the right and left, but for the bulk part, they say, ‘I trust you’ll do the right thing in the right situation.’”
Those situations come thick and fast in the world of D.C. politics.
Guns and more guns
The National Rifle Association endorsed the former pastor in his first bid for office in 2014, and again in 2016 and 2018. A peek at the NRA’s Political Victory Fund website shows you just how strongly Walker is viewed by the gun lobby — he’s received an “A” rating from the group.
“Mark has a proven pro-Second Amendment record and is committed to protecting your gun rights!” the website proclaimed in both 2016 and 2018.
Perhaps it’s better to say that Walker is more likely to say he protects the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. He said so himself.
“As far as making sure that a weapon, a gun is not in the hands of the wrong people, yeah, I want to do everything I can,” Walker said as he sat in his D.C. office. “What I want to do is make sure that we don’t go after law-abiding citizens. If there’s loopholes out there with background checks, I’ve got no problem closing them.”
He said that a few of the pieces of legislation proposed by Democrats — namely laws that would establish “red flag” situations where individuals allegedly posing a risk to themselves or others could have their firearms taken away after a legal petition — “take such a hard progressive turn.”
“If someone puts a piece of legislation in front of me that’s legitimately making sure there are some kind of issues there, that we don’t want guns — yes, I’m there, I think most of us are,” Walker said. “But who makes that call? Is it a family member, that you’re upset, and you call in and say, ‘Hey, this guy’s crazy, take his guns,’ and the sheriff shows up and says, ‘Yeah, fork ‘em over’? Does that person not have due diligence? That’s where we’ve got to be careful on this.”
When asked if he’s shifted any on his perspective on guns, he pointed to two particular pieces of legislation he says he supported.
The first was the Stop School Violence Act, which was supported by both Republicans and Democrats and provided $50 million a year for violence-prevention training for schools and law enforcement and created an anonymous reporting system for treats of school violence. Some Democrats said after the bill’s inclusion in a spending bill and subsequent passage that it was not enough but still approved it. The second was the Fix NICS law, which was written to ensure that states and law enforcement agencies provide criminal records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Walker said the gun-related bills he would vote for are common sense ones, not something that would infringe on individual liberties.
“When you go past the common sense — that’s what happens sometimes, and that’s why you have to slow the breaks on legislation that would damage more law-abiding people than stopping any of these mass shootings,” he said.
On a monument
Another issue that Walker weighed in on when asked — although not directly involved in the situation — is the status of the Confederate monument in downtown Pittsboro.
The lease agreement between the 1907 version of the Chatham County Board of Commissioners and the Winnie Davis Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was terminated, by a vote of 4-1, by the current commissioners in August.
In evaluating the situation, Walker said he had to look at it from both a personal and political side.
“From a personal standpoint, from a faith perspective, we’re taught that if there is something that creates hurt or damage to our brothers and sisters, and we can remove it or work ourselves around it, I think it’s incumbent upon us to look into that,” he said. “That’s different from a political aspect.”
Walker said he admired the work of former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican who served as Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, when she advocated for the removal of the Confederate flag flying outside the state capitol building in the wake of the Charleston shootings by Dylan Roof in 2015.
“I think the more important part is it should have never been there,” Haley told CNN in July of that year. “These grounds are a place that everybody should feel a part of. What I realized now more than ever is people were driving by and felt hurt and pain. No one should feel pain.”
Walker said he was at the funeral of the nine people killed by Roof. But he pointed to his own personal history with the Civil War when talking about what to do about monuments.
“My grandmother, I remember talking to her, and they used to talk about some of the losses they had in the Civil War and how hurtful that was,” Walker said. “When you talk about the historical component, you have to think that the bulk of these losses that are part of these families that are generational, these were 17-, 18-year-old kids, that this was the monument to remember a family member. Some of them probably not really even understanding the cause or what they were shipped off (to).”
He advocated for a voter’s referendum to make the decision on the monument, that having the commissioners decide was not the right call.
“From a management standpoint, because it stokes so much emotion, I think allowing the people to decide that to me would be a smart decision,” he said.
But there’s a hurdle to that. State law only allows referendums in certain situations — like alcohol ordinances slated for November in Siler City or a potential local option sales tax the county is currently considering — and placement of a monument on county property is not on that list.
There have been a few instances in the past where the General Assembly passed a local bill allowing counties or municipalities to hold a referendum that’s not part of the current allowable list.
A challenge to his campaign
Walker has been embroiled in a bit of a scandal this year.
In April, national news outlets like Politico named him as “Public Official A” in a federal bribery and corruption case against state GOP officials Robin Hayes and John Palermo and party donors John Gray and Greg Lindberg. According to an indictment, the four had “devised a scheme to defraud and deprive the citizens of the honest services of the Commissioner [state Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey], an elected state official, through bribery” to take positive action for Lindberg’s company.
“Public Official A,” referenced in texts and emails in the indictment as having “already made two calls on our behalf and is trying to help us move the ball forward” — as stated by one of Lindberg’s associates in a February 2018 email to Lindberg — was said to have received a payment of $150,000 from Lindberg. That same month, the Mark Walker Victory Committee received $150,000 from Lindberg, according to Federal Elections Commission documents.
In a statement to the News + Record, Walker spokesman Jack Minor Jr. said the February contribution “went to the Republican National Committee and did not benefit Walker’s campaign.”
“Walker is not and never has been a target of this investigation, and has committed no wrongdoing,” Minor said. “He has assisted the DOJ.”
The story was revived last week by the Associated Press when a former Federal Election Commission attorney said Walker benefited from the funds, whether he controls them or not.
Minor told the AP that “the campaign has not benefited from any of these funds, giving every dollar it had control of to charities that protect life, stop domestic violence and prevent breast cancer.”
Thinking about Chatham
Chatham County is relatively new to Walker’s Sixth Congressional District. Redistricting moved the county to that region prior to the 2016 election, joining the usual grouping of Alamance and Guilford counties and others, along with new additions like Lee County.
But even in a relatively short amount of time, he seems to have the political pulse of the county down-pat.
“Chatham County, to me, is kind of a microcosm of state politics, from Siler City to Pittsboro,” he said. “It’s amazingly unique that you can swing that far from the Bernie Sanders people that you’ll meet in Pittsboro to the die-hard Trump supporter in Siler City. It’s got it all right there in this smaller county in the middle of North Carolina. It is interesting to see that sort of dichotomy.”
Walker’s reception in Chatham may not be as warm as it is in counties like Lee and Randolph that are majority Republican. In 2016, he lost Chatham to Pete Glidewell by 2,372 votes, and two years later he was defeated in the county by Ryan Watts by more than twice that, 4,918 votes.
Walker said he “absolutely” wants to win all eight of the counties he represents, even with the migration from Chapel Hill likely bringing more progressive voters to the county who would lean Democratic.
“I’ve often thought that, even as Republicans, if people can see our hearts, that makes a huge difference,” he said. “It’s just a matter of getting that message across to Chatham County that as they come in, that they know us well enough that they’re not just punching a ballot but they’re voting for someone who looks out for what’s best for the county.”
This goes back to what he speaks of often: making the message clear. And part of that is getting on the ground and seeing people.
The Chatham County Democratic Party posted an image on its Facebook page last month titled “Have You Seen Me?” with Walker’s picture. The image claimed that Walker “startles easily at sight of constituents, emojis and debates” and “has not been sighted in the area for quite some time.”
That’s not entirely true that he hasn’t been in Chatham “for quite some time,” however that is defined. Walker was in Siler City just last month during the Congressional recess.
“There are many wonderful people in Chatham County, whether they’re supporters or not,” he says.
Maybe it’s his background as a pastor. He wants to reach people with a message. That’s what pastors do every Sunday in their pulpits.
“If you build a relationship, there’s a level of trust,” Walker said. “There’s a saying that says it’s harder to hate up close, and I think when you’re visible and you have a chance to meet and talk with people and be present to certain events or things, it brings down that tone or that feverish pitch and you can kind of see.”
Those relationships have extended beyond the voters to fellow legislators.
“I look up to him,” says U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, a first time GOP Congressman from Florida, of Walker. “He’s kind of a mentor to me. When we announced to run for the seat, he was one of the first ones to call me. Being in the process, now that we’re both here, I’ll say this first year there’s been times where I’ll go to him and say, ‘How should I think about this? How should I approach this? What should I do?’”
Walker says he hopes that people see that he’s trying to do the “right thing in the right situation,” even if it means some see him as “a little too moderate over here, a little too conservative over here.”
“I hope that’s the lane that we’re traveling in,” he said. “We’re fighting for what we believe the district wants us to fight for, and I hope that continues in the election results.”
Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.