Facing primary challenge, Patrick McHenry touts cachet as House leader

Albert Lee Wiley, Rep. Patrick McHenry, GOP (incumbent), Jeffrey Baker, GOP, Jeff Gregory
Albert Lee Wiley, Rep. Patrick McHenry, GOP (incumbent), Jeffrey Baker, GOP, Jeff Gregory

Patrick McHenry, who won his House seat a dozen years ago at 29, has ascended to the highest Republican Party leadership position held by a North Carolinian in more than 70 years.

As chief deputy majority whip since 2014, McHenry has played a key role in overseeing the enforcement of party discipline in voting on the House floor.

“I think it’s important that we get people from our state … in positions of power to affect outcomes,” McHenry said in a phone interview.

But his rivals in the Republican primary say he’s not conservative enough.

McHenry can speak from power. With a $1.5 million campaign bank account at the close of the first quarter, he is the favorite to win a June 7 primary election match against three challengers whose campaigns are virtually bereft of cash. That would position him to secure a seventh term representing the conservative-leaning 10th Congressional District in western Carolina.

McHenry has appeared to be little more concerned about protecting his own House seat than about spreading nearly $300,000 from one of his political committees among the campaigns of fellow Republicans this election cycle.

“I want to make sure we have a Republican majority in the House of Representatives, because I don’t want to see a replay of the first two years of the Obama administration,” McHenry said, referring to a period in which the Democratic-controlled Congress passed the health care legislation now dubbed Obamacare.

However, the delay in the North Carolina’s congressional primaries until June due to a tangled court battle over redistricting could present a wild card. It’s unclear how many voters who participated in a March 15 state legislative primary will turn out again for the postponed elections. A low turnout could at least raise a tiny possibility of an upset.

The other three candidates are: Albert Wiley, 79, an internationally known expert in treating victims of nuclear radiation who grew up in the 10th District but now lives on the Carolina coast, some 300 miles away; Jeffrey Gregory, a former county postmaster and Air Force veteran; and Jeffrey Baker, a private investigator, former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer and U.S. Army veteran.

The winner will face the only Democrat to file for the seat, Andy Millard, a former school teacher who owns a financial planning agency in Tryon.

Wiley, Gregory and Baker are all challenging McHenry from positions on the right. Baker did not respond to phone messages. In phone interviews, Wiley and Gregory each assailed the congressman, who first ran for a seat in the state legislature as a junior at Belmont Abbey College, as a “professional politician.”

“I think Congress needs more people who are kind of not professional politicians,” said Wiley, who has run for Congress multiple times, including for North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats in 2002 and 2004. He said Congress could benefit from participation by “citizens who can bring what they know about how this country works in their sphere of interests.”

He said he decided to run in the district where he grew up after McHenry voted for an omnibus budget last December that extended the national debt on a path toward $20 trillion.

“You’re turning all of this over to your children and your grandchildren,” he said. “I don’t want to see them burdened with that debt. It will compromise their freedom, interfere with their opportunities.”

Gregory ran for the seat as a Democrat in 2010, though his positions were more conservative than McHenry’s. He said that candidacy was intended to shine light on McHenry’s positions.

“This time I’m running to win, because America’s at a crossroads,” Gregory said. “We’ve got to get the career politicians out of there.”

Noting that both Wiley and Gregory have run for office many times, McHenry had a quick retort: “Two of these guys are career politicians,” he said. “They just haven’t been able to win offices.”

McHenry credentials

Under House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and his predecessor, Ohio Rep. John Boehner, McHenry has exhibited staunch party loyalty and conservative credentials.

He says he will support presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, although he disagrees with some of Trump’s positions, especially whether Trump will be an ardent opponent of abortion and backer of Israel.

As for the Obama administration’s suit to block implementation of North Carolina’s new law requiring transgender people to use bathrooms in government facilities according to their biological sex, McHenry said the federal government shouldn’t be “playing a role in dictating bathroom policies.”

Through his position as vice chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, McHenry won passage of legislation allowing small businesses to attract investors through crowdfunding.

He has fought hard against what he calls Obama’s “overreach.”

When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms sought to ban, as armor-piercing, rifle ammunition popular among hunters and target shooters, McHenry helped persuade 238 colleagues to sign a letter of opposition. The agency dropped its proposal.

Similarly, the Environmental Protection Agency sought to extend the Clean Air Act to prevent people from converting their cars into race cars – an effort to curb carbon emissions. After McHenry introduced a bill last March to block the action, the agency backed away.

Greg Gordon 202-383-0005; twitter: @greggordon2

Jeffrey Baker

Education: Gardner-Webb University, bachelor’s; Chicago School of Professional Psychology, graduate certificate in Forensic Psychology; American Intercontinental University, M.B.A.

Professional experience: 13 years as an officer in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; owner of private investigative firm

Political resume: None

Jeffrey Gregory

Age: 57.

Education: Kings Mountain High School; Oklahoma University classes and management and federal accident investigations.

Professional experience: Trained as air cargo specialist in U.S. Air Force. Lab Technician, U.S. Air Force. Spent 26 years with U.S. Postal Service, postmaster for 20 years in several counties.

Political resume: Ran unsuccessfully for Kings Mountain commissioner multiple times in 1980s, 1990s, for Kings Mountain School Board and in 2010, for 10th District U.S. House seat.

Family: Wife, Sonya, two children.

Patrick McHenry

Age: 40

Education: Graduated from Ashbrook High School, Gastonia, N.C.; B.A. from Belmont Abbey College.

Professional experience: Real estate agent; special assistant to U.S. labor secretary.

Political resume: Serving his sixth term in the U.S. House, chief deputy majority whip since 2014; vice chairman of Financial Services Committee.

Family: Married (wife, Giulia). Daughter, Cecelia Rose, born Aug. 15, 2014. Lives in Denver, N.C.

Website: http://mchenryforcongress.com/

Albert Lee Wiley

Age: 79

Education: Engineering degree, North Carolina State University; M.D., University of Rochester; Ph.D. in radiation therapy, University of Wisconsin.

Professional experience: 1968-70, active duty, U.S. Navy; 1970-89, assistant professor and later professor of radiation oncology, University of Wisconsin; interim director, cancer center, East Carolina University; 1993-2001, practiced oncology, Lakeland, Fla. 2002-2015, director of National Nuclear Security Administration’s Radiation Emergency Assistance Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn.

Political resume: Made unsuccessful runs for House seats in Wisconsin in 1982, 1984 and in North Carolina in 2000. Ran for Senate seats in 2002 and 2004.

Family: Wife, Janet. Four children.