State Sen. Chuck Edwards, the GOP candidate who ousted Madison Cawthorn in this year's primary for U.S. House District 11. (Image via Edwards' campaign page) Chuck Edwards
State Sen. Chuck Edwards, the GOP candidate who ousted Madison Cawthorn in this year's primary for U.S. House District 11. (Image via Edwards' campaign page)

In the state Senate, Edwards blocked Medicaid expansion for years, opposed abortion rights, authored anti-immigrant bills, and flexed on local governments.

U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s time in Congress is about to end after the scandal-plagued GOP congressman lost in his May primary to Chuck Edwards. 

Most of the media coverage has focused on Cawthorn’s bizarre and brief tenure in Congress and whether it was possible for an incumbent in Congress to lose. Now that he’s gone, at least for now, we wanted to pose an even more important question of the moment: Who is Chuck Edwards? 

Given that the 11th Congressional District is considered a safe one for Republicans, Edwards may be in Congress for some time,  although it should be noted that Democratic opponent Jasmine Beach-Ferrara — the Christian minister behind the LGBTQ advocacy group Campaign for Southern Equality—believes she has a good chance for an upset

Edwards has been in the state Senate in the western North Carolina district since 2016. He’s 61, and the operator of McDonald’s franchises through his holding company, C. Edwards Group, Inc., according to his required financial disclosure. He also collects rent for various rental properties.

More importantly, though, Edwards has shown the kind of lawmaker he wants to be in his time in the N.C. Senate. 

He didn’t want law enforcement to make their own decisions about how to police their communities, and had similar disdain for the city of Asheville’s elected leaders and its decisions around public safety. 

He’s also a fundamentalist when it comes to abortion rights and stood in the way of Medicaid expansion — until an abrupt about-face on the issue this year. 

If there’s a theme from his tenure in the state Senate, it’s that he wasn’t content in making decisions about state government, the major charge for a state senator. Instead, he’s fine with an authoritarian takeover of local government responsibilities when those elected officials do something he disagrees with.

A few of the highlights from Edwards’ tenure:

Edwards doesn’t believe in abortion rights. 

A large majority of North Carolinians do not believe that the government should be involved in a woman’s pregnancy, according to recent polls. As Edward touts on his campaign website, he was a primary sponsor of the “Born Alive Bill” and other legislation looking to politicize abortion rights. 

The supporters of the “Born Alive Bill,” which mirrored efforts by conservatives in Congress, was purportedly to ensure doctors help a baby who is born after an attempted abortion. Killing a baby is, of course, illegal. The bill supported by Edwards is really meant to stigmatize any abortion, critics said

Edwards continued to push a bill to force local law enforcement to crack down on immigrants

Local law enforcement has sometimes been hesitant to work with their federal counterparts to crack down on someone believed to be in the U.S. illegally. There’s a good reason for that. As Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller explained: “It is vital that members of our immigrant community can call the sheriff’s office without fear when they are in need of assistance from law enforcement.”

There are also constitutional issues with turning over people who are charged but not convicted of crimes, as well as concerns over racial profiling. 

Gov. Roy Cooper twice rejected versions of a bill supported by Edwards that would have forced local sheriffs to work with federal law enforcement, namely U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “This bill is unconstitutional and weakens law enforcement in North Carolina by mandating that sheriffs do the job of federal agents, using local resources that could hurt their ability to protect their counties,” Cooper said.

Edwards wants to control local governments.

At one point, Edwards sought to change how Buncombe County elected its school board. And then, in an even more brazen move, he sought to deprive localities of state money if they shifted money from their police departments.

During the protests over police budgets after the murder of George Floyd, many wanted localities to reconsider the relationship between police and public safety. Even though Asheville’s police budget has increased over the last two budget cycles, city leaders had voted to reorganize some aspects of the department last year. The $770,000 reallocation had little to do with core police department functions. 

Republicans like Edwards have sought to paint liberal cities and Democrats as anti-law enforcement if they question police funding. Really, Edwards’ bill — with questions about its constitutionality aside — obscures the debate.  

It also would have oversimplified and punished Asheville for something that didn’t even happen.

“I don’t think that when you examine any city’s budget at the end of the day you will see net cuts, because what we’re trying to do is replace some of these traditional policing responsibilities with a different system for delivering those services,” Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer said.  

Edwards helped block Medicaid expansion for years.

Edwards should be given credit for changing his mind recently to support Medicaid expansion. So far, however, North Carolina House and Senate Republicans haven’t been able to reach a deal to expand Medicaid, the program that allows low-income Americans to access healthcare, despite both chambers passing versions of expansion. 

North Carolina is one of just 12 states that hasn’t yet expanded who can be covered by Medicaid, as the federal government has picked up nearly all of the tab for allowing more people to get life-saving healthcare.

But even here, Edwards makes a disingenuous argument in changing his position. 

“Since the beginning, Republican members of the General Assembly – including myself – have been opposed to Medicaid expansion because, unless enacted alongside additional reforms, Medicaid expansion is terrible federal policy. So I’m sure you’re wondering, why now? The reality is: The Affordable Care Act is not going away,” he said in a statement.

In other words, North Carolina might as well take the money. 

While there is a lot of work to be done in continuing to reform healthcare so that more Americans can get access and lower costs, the ACA has saved lives.

And in North Carolina, “we have made significant progress in covering more uninsured people, reducing health disparities in insurance coverage, and expanding access to care for underserved populations. We have made headway in shifting our health payment system from one that pays for volume to one that pays for value. We’ve seen modest improvements in health outcomes, quality of care, and lowered health expenditures. Much of this success is attributable to the ACA,” the nonpartisan North Carolina Medical Journal found.

Edwards was endorsed by the N.C. Freedom Caucus.

Edwards received the endorsement of the North Carolina Freedom Caucus, a group that has promised to focus on culture war grievance issues and taking away the governor’s powers if more Republicans are elected to the General Assembly, among other far-right issues.