So who’s Kevin McCarthy?

Published online: Jun 30, 2014
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Rep. Kevin Owen McCarthy (R, CA), 49, the small businessman with an MBA representing the 23rd District of California and current House majority whip, moves up to the number two GOP leadership slot on Aug. 1.

Elected House majority leader this week by an overwhelming majority, McCarthy, first elected in 2006, has for four years been the boyish gray-haired acolyte standing in the background at House Speaker John Boehner’s (R, OH) press conferences.

It was sitting Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R, VA) stunning defeat in the state GOP primary a couple of weeks ago that gave McCarthy his shot at becoming second-in-command of the House GOP caucus. It also maintains his distinction as having risen to House leadership faster than any other member in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Here’s how the Clerk of the House describes the majority leader’s job:  “…scheduling legislation for floor consideration; planning the daily, weekly, and annual legislative agendas; consulting with Members to gauge party sentiment; and, in general, working to advance the goals of the majority party.”

As majority whip – the most thankless job in leadership – it fell to McCarthy to keep the troops in line on legislation moving to the floor. One news report refers to him as “manically social,” and this affability may be why he was able to pull off the job of bridging a caucus with conservatives on one end who claim they don’t care if they’re reelected in pursuit of their ideological goals, to the opposite pole, homeland to more “liberal” Republicans, those who cynics refer to as “Republicans in name only” (RINOs).

Cantor’s departure is not mourned by most national agriculture groups who put the blame for two years of Farm Bill delay squarely on his shoulders a sign of the low priority he assigned food and agriculture generally. As to McCarthy, so far these same groups view his ascension with cautious optimism.

McCarthy doesn’t hold an agriculture committee seat – he sits on the Financial Services Committee – but as the grandson of a California cattleman, he represents a district north and east of Los Angeles, extending to the heart of the state’s Central Valley, the nation’s “salad bowl.”  The largest industry in his district is agriculture yielding cotton, citrus, grapes, all things found on salad bars, alfalfa, sheep and cattle. The second biggest industry in the 23rd District is energy, and one county – Kern County – produces more oil in a year than the state of Oklahoma, says McCarthy’s official website.

Given the economic makeup of his district, it shouldn’t surprise anyone McCarthy understands the need for immigrant labor to plant and harvest crops, work dairies and processing plants. He supports a pathway to legal status for undocumented workers as part of federal immigration reform. Some say this positon is a political ticking time bomb; others say McCarthy is representing the folks who voted for him.

The media say McCarthy holds many of the same political views as Cantor. However, the difference is Cantor always seemed to be working for Cantor, an impression confirmed by his district’s primary vote. McCarthy seems to understand his success is a direct result of GOP success. I met him briefly back when he was the youngest Republican leader in the California Assembly. Definitely a nice guy, he struck me as a “moderate conservative,” definitely right of center but a pragmatic Republican in the Boehner mold.  Unlike Cantor – who Boehner publicly referred to as his “friend and colleague” – McCarthy and the Speaker are personally closer. McCarthy is a team player; Boehner won’t have to look over his shoulder to see what his majority leader may be doing or saying and to whom.

Boehner says he’ll run for a third term as Speaker if the House stays in GOP control come the November election. McCarthy, who won reelection in 2012 with nearly 74 percent of the vote, will come in as his heir apparent.

Nearly all sources of various political persuasions interviewed in the post-leadership election stories on McCarthy’s win calls him as “a nice guy,” “a gentleman,” and on and on. Worse things can be said, but don’t forget no one rises from deli owner in Bakersfield, to the youngest GOP leader in the California assembly to freshman House member, to House majority leader if they’re not politically gifted, wicked smart, a bit “clever” and tough. Fingers crossed.