Now that Mark Meadows has been named President Donald Trump’s new Chief of Staff and the dust is starting to settle, the next question is how and when his soon-to-be vacant Congressional seat will be filled.
President Trump’s announcement came Friday night via Twitter.
“I have long known and worked with Mark, and the relationship is a very good one,” Trump tweeted.
Meadows will replace acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who will now take a role as a special envoy to Northern Ireland. Meadows served four terms representing North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District and abruptly announced he wouldn’t run in 2020, just 30 hours before the filing period for that election closed. He has since endorsed Haywood County’s Lynda Bennett for that seat.
State law dictates that Gov. Roy Cooper shall call a special election under these circumstances and can’t appoint a new representative. Aubrey Woodard, chairman of North Carolina’s 11th GOP Congressional District, said he believes the special election could be held in November, where it would run concurrent to the regular congressional election. He also said it’s possible that it may not be held at all.
Should it be held in November, the seat would remain vacant until after the November elections. The winner of the special election would hold the seat from then until January, when the winner of the regular contest would step in.
In the general election Democrat Moe Davis will run against whichever Republican candidate wins the May 12 runoff election between Bennett and Madison Cawthorn, who was the second-top vote getter in last week’s Primary Election.
“Until the governor makes a decision whether a special election is to be called, our hands are tied so to speak,” Woodard said.
Gerry Cohen currently serves on Wake County’s Board of Elections, but used to be the director of legislative drafting and then special counsel to the N.C. General Assembly. He said that in prior similar instances, the special election has been held concurrent with the November election. If a special election is called to fill a seat for two months, it means there will be two congressional elections on the ballot in Haywood County.
“The problem trying to schedule it earlier is not only logistical — it’s expensive,” Cohen said. “Last year, we had special elections in the 3rd and 9th which were very expensive.”
The candidates who would square off in a special election will be chosen by the parties’ district executive committees.
“The Democrats could go ahead and name Moe Davis (who won last week’s Democratic primary) to run for the unexpired term next week,” Cohen said.
In a press release, Meadows said it was an honor to be selected by President Trump and serve on his team.
“This President and his administration have a long list of incredible victories they’ve delivered to the country during this first term, with the best yet to come — and I look forward to helping build on that success and staying in the fight for the forgotten men and women of America,” he said in the release.
In addition, he thanked the people of Western North Carolina, saying it had been the “honor of his life” to serve them.
“It may be in a different role, but I’ll continue working every day to deliver results for you — and main street Americans all over the country — in the months and years to come,” the release said.
Moe Davis’ campaign issued a statement late Friday night.
“Although the process for determining a replacement has not yet been determined, Meadows’s departure is good news for this district,” that release reads. “As those who live in the 11th know, it hasn’t had much representation in recent years as Meadows has rarely visited or worked for constituents here.”
“We could have a prompt special election had Meadows not tried to rig the Republican primary to handpick another Trump sycophant to take his place,’’ Davis said in the release. “I’m ready, willing and able to run right now, and the mess Meadows and his Republicans comrades have created is entirely their own doing.”
If Gov. Cooper does not call a special election at all, the seat would remain vacant until Jan. 3 when Bennett, Cawthorn or Davis becomes the representative.
Chris Cooper, head of Western Carolina University’s Political Science program, talked about some of the political implications at play in the 11th district. First, he said he has observed a slow drawdown of Meadows’ presence in the district, a drawdown that began with him making fewer public appearances locally.
Then publicity ramped up after Meadows lost staff members and with the election and chief of staff announcement.
“This is a quarter of a term for a member of Congress. People in the 11th Congressional District who need casework done, which is a lot of what Congress does, might be left without a clear source to go to,” Chris Cooper added.
Chris Cooper also discussed how Meadows’ move may impact his endorsement of Bennett.
“If he is viewed as somebody who put his own interests above the district’s, then being his handpicked successor isn’t as advantageous as it was,” he said.
Chris Cooper pointed out how Gov. Cooper is also now placed in a tough spot. If he calls an earlier special election, he would likely be handing the Republicans back the seat, but if he doesn’t, he is leaving Western North Carolina without any representation or constituent services. Gov. Cooper has not yet spoken publicly on the matter.