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A North Carolina Congressman Flexes His Conservative Muscles

Rusty Jacobs
Dan Bishop (R-NC), in a 2019 photo taken at his Charlotte home when he was running in a special election against Democrat Dan McCready. Bishop won that 9th Congressional District race and then won re-election this year for a redrawn, GOP-friendly 8th Congressional District.

On Friday, Kevin McCarthy finally garnered enough support to become Speaker of the U.S. House. But on the long, tough road to that final successful vote, North Carolina Congressman Dan Bishop played a key role in the political chaos in Washington.

Jeff Tarte, a Republican, was not surprised. Tarte served with Bishop in the North Carolina General Assembly and knew him from the Mecklenburg County political scene.

"A person of extreme principles and unquestioned integrity, period," Tarte said in a telephone interview. "That's Dan in a nutshell."

Before serving in the state legislature, Tarte was mayor of Cornelius, a Mecklenburg County town. And Bishop, in addition to his work as an attorney, was on the Mecklenburg County Commission from 2004 to 2008. Bishop then served a single term in the state House starting in 2015 before shifting to the North Carolina Senate. He won the 9th U.S. Congressional District seat in a 2019 special election and won re-election to Congress this past November in a newly re-drawn, GOP-friendly 8th district.

Tarte said he was not at all surprised Bishop stood at the center of a small group of arch conservatives blocking California Congressman Kevin McCarthy from easily taking the speaker's gavel.

"Dan is not afraid to be the last person standing, it's not popular, it's not fun being out there by yourself," Tarte said.

Bishop often considers himself 'the only true conservative in the room,' according to former NC Governor

Bishop wasn't by himself entirely, however. He and more than a dozen other extreme right Republicans blocked McCarthy in a show of defiance not seen in Congress in 100 years. Bishop ultimately threw his vote behind McCarthy on Friday, telling CNN his vote came after his faction got important concessions.

"We're gonna have conservatives distributed on important committees throughout Congress," he told the CNN host.

Former North Carolina governor and fellow Republican Pat McCrory also said he was not surprised at Bishop's intransigence.

"He considers himself, often, the only true conservative in the room and often the smartest person in the room with his legal degree," McCrory told WUNC.

McCrory was in the governor's mansion when Bishop sponsored the notorious bathroom bill, known as HB2. The law restricted transgender people from using public facilities corresponding to their gender identity.

"We had long debates between my legal staff and him about the formation of that bill where it could have been made to accomplish the same goal but with less controversy but there was no compromise," McCrory recalled.

Being a conservative crusader is nothing new to Bishop, who sponsored North Carolina's notorious 'bathroom bill'

Ultimately repealed, the measure had a detrimental impact on North Carolina's economy and reputation, as the NCAA and NBA pulled events, artists canceled concerts, and businesses abandoned expansion projects.

HB2 may very well have cost McCrory a second term as Governor, and he had to answer for it again when he ran for U.S. Senate last year.

"Listen, we cannot allow discrimination against anyone, but we also can't allow science to be taken over by woke politics," McCrory said during the debate hosted by WRAL.

McCrory lost the primary to now U.S. Sen. Ted Budd, and both Budd and Bishop are backed and funded by the Club for Growth. The Club is a deep-pocketed conservative Political Action Committee that McCrory said has "hijacked" the GOP. According to Opensecrets.org, which tracks federal elections contributions, the Club for Growth was Dan Bishop's top individual donor in the midterm election cycle.

Joel Ford, a former Democratic State Senator who served alongside Bishop in that chamber, described Bishop as a kind, approachable and hard-working consistent conservative.

"Am I surprised that Dan Bishop's in the thick of things? No, absolutely not, that's who he is," said Ford.

Ford has his own history of bucking his caucus. He was one of two state Senate Democrats to vote for a mostly GOP-backed 2018 measure requiring a photo I.D. for in-person voting. That law just got struck down by the state Supreme Court's outgoing majority of Democratic justices.

Ford said Bishop was being tactically smart.

"When you're looking to bring about change, you look for opportunities to leverage," Ford asserted. "And this is a leverage point for a minority group of Republicans."

Bishop has consistently taken hardline conservative positions in D.C. He voted against certifying Joe Biden's presidential election victory over Donald Trump. And Bishop joined many other Republicans in voting against major Biden Administration initiatives that went on to passage, including infrastructure investments, the Inflation Reduction Act, and a major COVID stimulus bill.

And chances are good that Bishop and his hard-right bloc will defy convention again if things don't go their way.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.