While publicly considered one of the more low-key members of the Congressional Black Caucus, North Carolina 1st District Congressman G.K. Butterfield is anything but that behind the scenes.
He’s a gregarious rural machine pol who has, within less than a decade since his election in 2004, exhibited an impressive proficiency at crafting the deal. While you won’t see Butterfield channel hopping the cable talk circuit like many of his CBC colleagues (perhaps more indicative of North Carolina’s political personality than anything having to do with the state coastal plain Congressman when considering the muted style of Black delegation brethren Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC)), you will catch him in good humor and solid handshaking over one-on-one conversation, a plate of appetizers or the atmosphere of familiar company and trusted staffers.
True to the smoothness of his name, Butterfield is the cat you want to hang with at the conventions, conferences and picnic-style rallies. He’s old school in his political approach – a Southern Tammany Hall earnestly making the constituent rounds and going about the business of his district.
Should there be a choice between nationally televised talking head fame and the furtiveness of small town isolation, Butterfield will gladly pick the latter option. Still, Butterfield found himself in the spotlight, briefly, as the House Ethics panel Member who elicited that famous “I find no evidence of corruption” response from lead counsel Blake Chisam in the trial of subsequently censured CBC colleague Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY).
Butterfield hails from Wilson, North Carolina, the son of what is described as a “prominent” Black North Carolina family with traces of White lineage. He graduated from Charles H. Darden High School, earned a political science degree from North Carolina Central University and a juris degree from NCCU’s law school. Between 1968 to 1970, Butterfield also served in the U.S. Army.
His rise in Congressional leadership, while quiet and stealthy, is on a noticeable fast track. During the 110th Congress, then House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) plucked Butterfield as one of eight Chief Deputy Whips. During the 111th Congress, he was Vice Chair of the Energy subcommittee and is a member of the Environment and Economy subcommittee. Still, Butterfield is considered a very cautious and deliberative legislator, reserved and prudent.
In the 112th Congress, he’s serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee overseeing Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. His signature legislative items include the Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act “to assist states in carrying out inspections of lodging facilities, train inspection personnel, contract with a commercial exterminator; educate owners and staff at lodging facilities.” Also passed was H.R. 4252 “To amend the Small Business Act to change the net worth amount under the small business program for socially and economically disadvantaged individuals from $750,000 to $978,722, and for other purposes.”
While supporting reduced government regulations for the private sector, Butterfield is reliably party-line in voting habits and considered left of center. He gets an 80% rating from Planned Parenthood and a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Butterfield’s Congressional seat literally fell into his lap when predecessor Rep. Frank Ballance (D-NC) suddenly faced federal money laundering, mail fraud and conspiracy charges and a four-year prison sentence. A 15-year Superior Court Judge and a 1-year state Supreme Court justice, Butterfield turned Ballance’s misfortune into first-round opportunity by winning a special election in 2004. Since then, he’s ran either unopposed or soundly defeated Republican opponents with 70% margins.
Needless to say, with those spreads, the Butterfield name should be a permanent fixture in 21st century North Carolina politics.