Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, whose rural North Carolina district has become even more Republican, is bucking his party again in two high-profile congressional votes.
Last week, Kissell was one of 17 Democrats who voted with Republicans to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in criminal contempt of Congress. And next week, he plans to vote with them again to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law.
“I’ve heard from hundreds and hundreds of people from my district about their opposition to the health care law,” Kissell told the Observer Monday. “I voted against it originally and I will vote to repeal it.”
Kissell also said he doesn’t plan to endorse Obama for re-election and isn’t sure he’ll attend his party’s national convention in Charlotte.
Kissell represents the 8th District, which runs from Mecklenburg County to Robeson County. Last year’s redistricting added heavily Republican areas of Rowan, Davidson and Randolph counties while removing thousands of Democratic voters in Charlotte and Fayetteville.
Redrawn districts have helped make him and Rep. Mike McIntyre of Robeson County – who also voted to find Holder in contempt – two of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents in the country.
Thursday’s vote on Holder wasn’t the first time Kissell had bucked his party since being elected in 2008.
In 2009 he was one of 39 House Democrats who voted against the health care bill, which passed by just five votes. He also voted against a Democratic cap-and-trade bill designed to reduce global warming. One pro-health care group ran online ads with his picture and the word “Betrayal.”
These votes are sparking outrage, too. “It doesn’t sit well with me at all; I will never support him again,” said Ralph Bostic, former Democratic chairman in Kissell’s home, Montgomery County. “ He needs to change his party . That’s the way he votes.”
But some Democrats say Kissell is doing what he needs to do in a conservative district.
“Larry Kissell continues to win the support of both Democrats and Republicans because he has been an independent voice for North Carolina families focused on creating jobs and fighting Republicans’ efforts to deeply cut Medicare,” said Stephanie Formas, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
As a sign of support, the DCCC has reserved $1.1 million in TV advertising for Kissell, she said.
That’s almost as much as the $1.2 million the National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved to defeat him, said spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.
“While Larry Kissell can try to have an epiphany and try to run away from the president, he has a clear record of voting with President Obama’s job-destroying policies,” she said.
The Holder vote, the first time a sitting Cabinet member has ever been found in contempt, was prompted by the attorney general’s refusal to respond to a subpoena to release emails and memos related to Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gun-running investigation. The president has invoked executive privilege to block the subpoena.
Many angry House Democrats walked out during the vote.
Kissell said he’s not concerned about opinions of party leadership, and that his vote for contempt of Holder was about the need for transparency.
“I hated that it came to that,” he said. “We did not have answers . We have a dead border guard. We have a program that didn’t work. We have guns that are still missing. And we need answers.”
McIntyre, of Lumberton, is also running in a more Republican district. He said the vote on Holder was about getting to the bottom of the case, not party politics. “A law enforcement officer lost his life,” he said. “His family and we all want answers as to what went wrong and how this tragedy happened.”
One group pressuring members of Congress to vote for contempt: the National Rifle Association.
The gun-rights group had put lawmakers on notice that the vote would factor into the scorecard that determines its endorsements, and financial help.
“We told members of Congress that we were going to score the contempt vote because we want the truth out,” spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said Monday.
Kissell, who has gotten $11,900 from the NRA’s political action committee, said the group did not influence his decision.
Some analysts say Kissell’s votes against Holder and health care should help him with independents and even Republican voters.
“Neither Larry Kissell nor Mike McIntyre will be the deciding vote on any of these votes,” said David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report. “Republicans can pass whatever they want through the House. What (Kissell) needs are Republican cross-over support. The only way you get that is by bucking your own party.”
On health care, Kissell explained why he plans to vote for repeal on July 11. “Constitutional or not, the health care bill cut Medicare and placed undue burdens on our small businesses,” he said.
Republicans Scott Keadle and Richard Hudson, who meet July 17 in an 8th District runoff, both point to a January vote where Kissell voted against repealing the health care law.
“This law is not perfect,” Kissell said at the time. “We have a choice: we can look backward and have the same fight all over again, or we can move forward determined to make things better and focus on our economy. I choose to look forward and work to make things better.”