LINCOLNTON, N.C. — Last night’s elections made Rep. Pat McHenry, R-N.C., flanked by a powerful cadre of local Republicans and clad in his now-typical suit and bowtie, one of the most powerful financial voices in Washington.
The North Carolina Republican is poised to take the gavel of the House Financial Services Committee if Republicans flip the chamber, as continues to look likely, after the 2022 midterm elections. McHenry accepted his easy victory in the solidly red district to cheers and applause at the Lincoln County Republican watch party, hosted in a refurbished cotton mill.
The mill, like the area, suffered from the collapse of the local textile industry, but is experiencing a second life amid the growing economic prosperity brought by the booming financial industry in Charlotte, located about an hour away.
McHenry’s 10th District stretches from the wealthy suburbs of Lake Norman outside of Charlotte — home to many executives from some of the largest U.S. banks — to mountainous Caldwell County in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The anticipated Republican “red wave” appears to have fizzled nationwide, but it was in full force in Lincoln County, where McHenry lives. Ballots around the country are still being counted, but the result was more promising for Democrats than Republicans had hoped, as concerns over gas prices and rising prices didn’t quite outweigh women’s concerns about access to health care.
Still, inflation and crime dominated conversation at the watch party, where onlookers cheered the Republican sweep of local elections, all the way from McHenry’s landslide victory to winning every single school board slot.
It’s the first time Republicans have won every race in which they ran a candidate in the county, party officials said. That’s important for an ambitious politician like McHenry, whose congressional career would benefit from easy campaigns and longevity in D.C.
And Republicans’ total victory in this area isn’t a coincidence — Republicans in this stronghold part of the state (and in areas around the country like it) say they want complete party control from top to bottom. In this case, from the chair of one of the most powerful committees in Washington to the City of Lincolnton City Council.
“How important is it that our Republicans are on school boards? The left, they’re always going after our people, they’re going after our kids,” said Rep. Jason Saine, the county’s representative in the state House. “I hope this is the last breath of the Democratic Party in Lincoln County.”
An old friend of McHenry’s, Saine is currently senior chairman of the state’s appropriations committee, and previously chaired the North Carolina finance committee. The theme of the election was “inflation, inflation, inflation,” he said.
McHenry’s speech didn’t reference his ascension to a more visible seat in Congress; instead he promised that Republicans controlling both chambers could tamp down on government spending and address inflation.
“If we pick up the U.S. Senate we’ll stop the crazy appointees that Biden has attempted to get in office,” he said. “But if we get the House and the Senate, we will be able to stop the tax policy and spending policy of this administration. Those are the things that are driving up inflation.”
Some financial policy priorities got a small nod from the probable incoming Financial Services panel chairman. Republicans are increasingly rallying against the environmental-social-governance priorities of banks and other companies as well as the Biden administration’s plan to staff the IRS.
“We can hold this administration accountable through oversight of their crazy spending policies and oversight of woke corporations that are trying to do the Democrats’ bidding on the social agenda,” McHenry told the crowd.
Offstage, McHenry said in an interview that the Financial Services committee would, under his leadership, pursue both oversight hearings and legislation on ESG-related matters and would try to pass legislation that would set a regulatory framework for cryptocurrency.
He’s already working with current Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters, D-Calif., on a bill about stablecoins, but he wants to go further.
“The latest news in this world shows that we have a dramatic need for us to legislate,” he said. “Agencies do not have the power nor are they using the powers they have to protect consumers. They’re not prioritizing consumer protections for those that are digital asset holders, and they’re not putting forward a regulatory regime where digital assets can be held and be appropriately held, so we have to legislate that.”
McHenry expects to focus on cracking down on “woke” corporate policies via legislation and hearings, although he didn’t specify what kind of legislation he would pursue.
“We’re working on an agenda for next year that includes oversight and legislating, and the combination of the two, and that means we’re focused on the worst aspects of the regulatory framework that the administration has put forward, and our alternatives,” he said of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposal around ESG investing disclosures.
For McHenry, this work means “fighting unsound policy.”
Also, “it happens to be good politics,” he said.