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Published: Jul 29, 2005 12:30 AM
Modified: Oct 23, 2005 07:15 PM

Hayes is CAFTA foe no longer
Textile heir casts key vote in House

Rep. Robin Hayes says he got concessions from the Bush administration on the enforcement of trade rules.
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North Carolina Congressman Robin Hayes in recent weeks clearly staked out a position against the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

"I am flat-out, completely, horizontally opposed to CAFTA," Hayes said earlier this month. "It's not in the best interests of the core constituency I represent," he said another time. "Every time I drive through Kannapolis and I see those empty plants, I know there is no way I could vote for CAFTA," he said on a third occasion.

But shortly after midnight Wednesday, Hayes switched his vote from no to yes, allowing the House to pass the trade agreement 217-215 and handing President Bush a major victory. A tie would have defeated the bill.

The Senate also approved the agreement Thursday, 56-44, clearing the way for implementation.

Hayes' switch came after House Speaker Dennis Hastert lobbied for his vote and after a number of his fellow textile executives said CAFTA was needed to help save an ailing industry.

Hayes, an heir to one of North Carolina's great textile fortunes and a former GOP nominee for governor, said he voted for CAFTA after wringing concessions from the administration to achieve tougher regulation of textile imports and a stronger negotiating stance on trade issues with China.

"It was a unique opportunity, and we took it," he said.

On Thursday, Hayes was pilloried by Democrats for flip-flopping on a trade deal that they argued would cause more textile jobs to head to Central America. They vowed to target his 8th District congressional seat -- a swing district stretching from the Charlotte area to Fayetteville -- in next year's elections.

"Robin Hayes ought to be ashamed," said state Democratic Chairman Jerry Meek. "Despite the fact he vowed to oppose CAFTA, Hayes caved in to Republican arm-twisting and switched to cast the deciding vote, allowing CAFTA to pass."

But some textile executives, who view CAFTA as a way to save an ailing industry, praised Hayes as a man of political courage.

"I'm really proud of what he did this morning," said Peter Hegarty, president of Tuscarora Yarns Inc., which operates three spinning mills in Hayes' district. "He really stuck his neck out for us. He listened to what his constituents were saying and what the textile industry needed."

Hayes was one of two North Carolina members of Congress -- the other was Rep. Sue Myrick of Charlotte -- who voted for CAFTA. Rep. Charles Taylor of Brevard, who had previously announced his opposition to CAFTA, was recorded as having not voted. Taylor said that he had meant to vote no but that the voting machine malfunctioned.

Politically unpopular

The trade deal was politically unpopular in North Carolina, where critics argued that the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, had cost the state thousands of jobs as companies moved jobs overseas.

One study found that North Carolina has lost 34,150 jobs since 1993 because of NAFTA. The study was by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington.

When Bush visited Gaston County earlier this month courting votes for CAFTA, only Myrick appeared with him. Hayes, although he represents an adjoining district, did not attend.

Hayes said he voted against CAFTA earlier Wednesday. But House leaders held up the final vote tally as they frantically sought votes. Near the end of the voting, Hastert approached Hayes in the cloakroom.

"I was minding my own business," Hayes said. "All of a sudden, the speaker came around and said, 'We have to have your vote. In return for your vote, we will do whatever is necessary to help the people in the 8th District.' "

Hayes said he had not prepared an agenda, because he had not expected to change his vote. After the vote, Hayes said, he met with Rob Portman, a U.S. trade representative, to discuss the needs of the textile industry.

His switch was made easier by the fact that some of the larger textile companies supported CAFTA, seeing an elimination of tariffs between the United States and the Central American countries as the only way to compete against the wave of Chinese imports.

John Bakane, president and CEO of Cone Denims in Greensboro, said that 90 percent of denim jeans are made overseas.

As a result of CAFTA, Bakane said, "You will continue to have a U.S. textile industry in 10 to 20 years."

For Hayes, this was a familiar predicament -- caught between his constituents and his party's leadership on a controversial trade issue. In 2001, Hayes cast the decisive House vote to give the president trade promotion authority, often called fast-track.

Failure to vote

Taylor's failure to vote also drew attention.

The eight-term Republican congressman from Brevard said he cast a no vote on the House floor, but "due to an error my no vote did not record on the voting machine." He said the House clerk's computer logs verified that he had voted. A spokesman for the House Administration Committee said Taylor had tried to vote with an invalid voting card.

Members can watch their votes recorded on a big board, and they have the opportunity to orally announce their vote to the clerk.

Taylor said that he and Rep. Howard Coble of Greensboro voted no together -- and both had agreed to vote late to give the House leadership time to round up votes.

"I voted and I saw Charlie on the floor. I believe he said, 'I voted, too,' and said, 'Let's leave,' " Coble said, adding that they went to Taylor's office and monitored the House proceedings on C-SPAN.

Staff writer Rob Christensen can be reached at 829-4532 or robc@newsobserver.com.
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