By  on December 20, 2005

WASHINGTON — Rep. Robin Hayes (R., N.C.) — scion of the Cannon textile family and one of the most influential members of Congress on trade matters — has performed a balancing act during his four terms in Congress.

He has been on both sides of trade-related issues — free trade versus protecting jobs in his home state, which has lost hundreds of thousands of textile jobs, many to imports. He has voted in favor of free trade agreements but he also defended "Buy American" provisions in the defense arena.

Hayes helped push the Central American Free Trade Agreement over the finish line last summer, as well as helping to strengthen language in the Department of Defense's procurement regulations in favor of U.S. textile and apparel manufacturers.

In his latest key move, Hayes successfully sponsored a provision in the 2006 Defense Authorization legislation that extends protections to domestic textile and apparel manufacturers that make millions of dollars of apparel and component parts for military use. The House on Monday approved the legislation with the Hayes provision and the Senate was to vote on it. The provision expands the Berry Amendment governing Department of Defense procurement and urges "Buy American" guidelines. It requires the Secretary of Defense to notify Congress within seven days if contracts are awarded for items such as T-shirts, pants or uniforms to foreign manufacturers. The Secretary must also place the contract on the Internet and allow U.S. companies to bid.

Hayes, 60, honed his survival instincts in the wilderness. In 1980, he moved his family to a remote corner of Alaska, where they lived in a wood-frame house without electricity, indoor plumbing or phones for a year. There, between ice fishing and hunting caribou, he helped form a company that bid on contracts to clean up remote oil field sites. It was a long way from the comforts of home in Concord, N.C., and textile politics on Capitol Hill.

"It was a spiritual experience," Hayes recalled in his Capitol Hill office.

He has taken political heat from key trade-related votes and rebounded time and again. Caught at the crossroads of the demise of the Southern textile industry and the rise of newer high-tech industries, Hayes has managed to survive the transition with a combination of determination, a rich textile legacy, accessibility and party loyalty.

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