WASHINGTON, D.C. — The retirement of Mike McIntyre, a Lumberton native who has served in the U.S. Congress since 1997, is not only a loss to Robeson County Democrats and the national Democratic Party, but also to local Republicans, according to the county’s GOP leader.
“He’s been a great American and done a great job serving our district, state and nation,” Phillip Stephens said Wednesday after McIntyre’s plan to retire at the end of his current term was announced. “His service has been admirable. Our party has nothing but praise for him since he has served his district honorably.”
McIntyre, who first won election in 1996, will have served nine terms as the 7th District representative when he leaves office early in 2015. The district, which extends from Hoke County to Wilmington, now includes only a small part of Robeson County.
Stephens said that the sting of McIntyre’s retirement will be felt by the Democratic Party at all levels.
“It’s a sad day for Democrats because he was the last conservative Democrat in Congress,” Stephens said. “The Democrats will never again have anyone as conservative as Mike McIntyre in Congress.”
In a statement released Wednesday, McIntyre said that he and his family are “ready for a new chapter and excited about new opportunities to continue helping North Carolina.” He also said that accomplishments during his years in office have included quadrupling the number of veterans clinics in the area; passing the tobacco buyout; expanding military bases; establishing an economic commission to promote jobs and fight poverty; and ensuring that the North Carolina coast will continue to be an economic engine and environmental treasure.
“We also have built new fire and police stations, town halls, and workforce development centers; opened new farmers’ markets and senior centers; improved airports and the Wilmington Port; and expanded educational and recreational opportunities for our children and youth,” McIntyre’s statement said. ” … None of this could have been accomplished without the strong commitment of my family, the hard work of my staff, and — especially — the willingness of people throughout our region to put partisanship aside and work together to get things done for the betterment of eastern North Carolina.”
McIntyre, 57, is a lawyer who graduated from Lumberton High School and the University of North Carolina. He first won election in the 1996 General Election in a close race. At the time, the 7th District included all of Robeson County.
However, when Republicans won control of the North Carolina General Assembly, the 7th District was redrawn and only included part of Robeson County and none of McIntyre’s hometown, Lumberton, which vote strongly Democratic. He won a close re-election in 2012 over Republican challenger David Rouzer from Johnson County and his seat had been targeted this year by the National Republican Party as one that is vulnerable as the GOP tries to expand control of the U.S. House.
McIntyre’s decision to retire now puts the race for the 7th District up in the air.
Stephens said Wednesday that what political analysts had been referring to as a “toss-up seat” in the upcoming November election is now being called a “safe Republican seat.”
Rouzer, who lost to McIntyre by only a few hundred votes in 2012 after a recount, issued a statement Wednesday afternoon lauding McIntyre for his service.
“I have genuine respect and appreciation for the work Congressman Mike McIntyre and his staff have done to help countless individuals across Southeastern North Carolina,” said Rouzer, who plans to run again for the 7th District. “He has been a tireless advocate for the local needs of the district during his time in office, and I personally appreciate his strong devotion to the Christian Faith.”
Republican Richard Hudson, whose 8th Congressional District now includes most of Robeson County, also issued a statement Wednesday.
“Congressman McIntyre has dedicated much of his life towards representing Southeastern North Carolina and serving our remarkable community, ” Hudson said. ” I’ve had the pleasure of serving with Mike on the House Agriculture Committee, where he has been a tireless advocate for North Carolina’s growers and producers who are so vital to our state’s economy. We have worked together on many issues, including our efforts to secure recognition for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, protecting the Tobacco Transition Payment Program from sequestration, arranging the business community leader fly-in, and several others. “
McIntyre’s tenure in Congress also drew praise from fellow Democrats across the state.
McIntyre surprised many by his announcement to retire, bringing into question what lies in his future.
“There was no doubt that his next election was going to be a gruelling one,” said Bo Biggs, a political junkie who serves as legislative chairman for the Lumberton Area Chamber of Commerce. “Winning re-election would have been tough, but I still think Mike has a lot of goodwill in the district and may have been able to pull it off.”
Biggs said that he has not spoken to McIntyre, but suspects that there may be a federal judgeship in his future.
“Whatever happens, it will be a loss for Robeson County,” he said. “With the way these lines are drawn, it will be longtime before someone from our county can run and win a congressional seat. It was nice while we had Mike McIntyre.”
John McNeill, the mayor of Red Springs and the chairman of Robeson County’s Democratic Party, said that McIntyre has done an excellent job representing his district considering that Republican Party controlled Congress for much of that time.
“He has done a good job under difficult situations,” McNeill said. “He only had a few years when Congress was under control of the Democrats.”
McNeill said that he has always had a “great working relationship” with McIntyre.
“He has a solid and great reputation,” McNeill said. “I highly suspect we have not heard the last from Mike McIntyre as a political candidate. I think he will be under pressure to run for another political office.”
Lumberton City Councilman John Cantey said McIntyre helped local towns and cities acquire funding for programs and construction projects.
Cantey, who is black, said that McIntyre has been “misunderstood” in many cases by blacks who have seen McIntyre’s opposition to such programs as the Affordable Care Act as being against President Barack Obama.
“The last few years a majority of African Americans have felt that he may not have been supporting the ideology of the Obama Administration,” Cantey said. “But when one would discuss issues with him one-on-one, he usually had some good reasons why he voted the way he did and was not always in line with the administration.”