The shutdown may have changed little about politics in Washington, but here in the home town of one of its biggest champions, it had a measurable impact. And not in a good way.
The area encompassing the district of Rep. Mark Meadows lost as much as $1 million per day during the more-than-two-week stretch when the national parks were closed, according to one estimate, suspending the foliage tourism industry that usually props up the local economy this time of year.
Some residents blame Meadows, a Republican elected in 2012, for writing the original letter that suggested party leaders could kill President Obama’s signature health-care law by hobbling the federal government. More than 79 Republicans signed on to the Meadows missive in August, and by the time the shutdown began in October, Meadows had been labeled a chief architect of the strategy.
Yet on the day the shutdown ended, residents here seemed most disgusted by Washington writ large. “I think all those people in Congress are idiots,” Mike Tate, a 66-year-old retiree who voted for Meadows, said as he ate breakfast at a small coffee shop. “I feel they ought to be replaced.”
Peter Adams, 72, a Democrat sitting nearby, agreed.
“Our politics are terrible right now,” Adams said. “It is so sad.”
With the impasse over, at least temporarily — and with Republicans in Congress admitting defeat — people along Main Street here mostly said they want the same things out of Washington: more compromise, less posturing and an end to all of the bitterness that has divided the country in recent years.
“I’d like to see everyone act like more of grown-up,” Tate said.
Republicans expressed disbelief that Meadows — a former real estate developer who has been in office less than a year — was behind one of the biggest and most divisive political dramas in recent years.
“The whole thing was petty,” said Jim Foster, 74, a Meadows supporter. “But the real roadblock was in the Senate and with Obama.”
The shutdown came at a terrible time for many small businesses in Meadows’s largely rural district, which is heavily dependent on tourism in the autumn, when visitors come to see changing leaves. The $1-million-a-day loss estimate came from a study by economist Steve Morse at Western Carolina University.
Meadows’s strident stance on the shutdown does seem to have hurt him with some in the tourism industry here. Burt Kornegay, who runs a backpacking and canoeing business, said he nearly had to cancel two major trips planned for October because of the closure. The news of a deal Wednesday night had him scrambling to tell his customers that the October trips were going forward as scheduled.
“I’ve never had anything like it,” he said. “Those trips were 30 percent of my gross revenue for the year. This has been incredibly stressful.”
Kornegay, who voted for Meadows’s Democratic rival in November, said he e-mailed the Republican lawmaker two times and called once to express his anger but got no response.
“I am very sorry that he is my congressman,” Kornegay said. “He nearly put me and a lot of other people around here out of business.”
In recent days, Meadows has played down his role in the shutdown drama, saying that it was inflated by the media. The congressman declined to comment for this article but told an Asheville newspaper that stories of Americans hurt by the shutdown tore “at his heart.” Local political observers also suggested that Meadows may have been more frontman than mastermind.
“I find it hard to believe that he’s the architect,” said Chris Cooper, a political scientist at Western Carolina. “But he’s a likely candidate for the shutdown caucus to put out there.”
Although Democrats have been more competitive in North Carolina in recent years, Meadows represents one of the most conservative districts in the state and is unlikely to face a serious challenge in next year’s midterm elections. He was elected to Congress in 2012 after North Carolina Republicans led a successful effort to redraw his district’s boundaries to exclude the more liberal city of Asheville. Heath Shuler, a conservative Democrat and former Washington Redskins quarterback, held the office before Meadows but opted not to run for reelection after the boundaries shifted.
Meadows’s rise is representative of a broader national trend in which migration patterns and redistricting have produced districts that are less competitive and far more partisan.
At the coffee shop in Hendersonville, Republicans and Democrats sat at different tables, complaining loudly of the growing political drama that was dividing them.
“Somehow ‘compromise’ has become a dirty word in Washington,” said Harley Stepp, 79, a retired trial lawyer. “The first thing they taught us in law school is that you are not going to get every damn thing you want.”
One of the places where Republicans and Democrats do mix is on the small commuter jets that land daily at the Asheville airport. As lawmakers cast their votes Wednesday night, a Republican and a Democrat from Meadows’s district spent the 45-minute flight from Atlanta complaining about the partisan divide.
“I hate what’s happening to our politics,” said Jacquey Riser, 68, who voted for Meadows.
“Everything has become so polarized,” said Susan Penland, 42, a Democrat, crammed into the seat next to her.
Penland was returning home from a religious retreat in Oregon. Riser had been visiting her daughter in Baltimore.
“We have to be more a part of people’s lives who are different from us,” Riser said.
“We have to make ourselves uncomfortable,” Penland agreed.