How I Did It: Political Science

Senator Tom Apodaca with Raleigh. Photo by Allie Goolrick.

Senator Tom Apodaca with Raleigh. Photo by Allie Goolrick.

To hear Senator Tom Apodaca tell it, he’d never even thought about working in politics before deciding to run for senator one night over a cigar with a friend. But the businessman turned politician has quickly risen to second-in-command in the North Carolina Senate as Deputy Republican Leader. Bold Life sat down with Apodaca (and Raleigh the bulldog) for the lowdown on running for state office.

So you ran down a little different road to becoming a Senator…

I graduated from Western Carolina in 1980 as a business major. I was in the banking business, which brought me to Hendersonville. I met my wife at Western, and she got a teaching job here. My wife and I have always tried to be very active citizens with various organizations—the Children and Family Resource Center, Boys and Girls club—so we knew a lot of people. But I didn’t come up through the political ropes.

So what made you decide to run for senate?

I ask myself that just about every day when I’m in Raleigh. The redistricting maps were drawn in 2002. When the North Carolina Supreme Court and the other courts handed down that decision, it opened up the senate seat for the first time with Hendersonville being the largest county in the district. So that created a lot of interest within the county. I’ve been on the board of trustees at Western Carolina University since 1996, and I was in Cullowhee one night at a trustee meeting. I was outside having a cigar with former Asheville Mayor Lou Bissette, who is a dear friend of mine, and we were talking, and he just made the casual comment, “You know you ought to run for that senate seat that just opened.” The more I thought about it the more I had interest in it. We really needed voices in Western North Carolina. And I really felt like I could help develop a voice in this area.

Were you surprised at your success?

I think one reason I was successful was I honestly believe that I was elected by people knowing my wife. Because she had taught for 15 years. Something I’ll always remember —I had a man tell me that the first time he voted for me was because of my wife, the second time for what I had done.

What are some of the issues that really concern you?

My wife is a schoolteacher so one of the main focuses of my tenure has been education. I’ve really paid a lot of attention to testing and the system that I consider broken. Our testing system is unfair, doesn’t really tell us what we need to know to help us with the kids, and that’s something that we’re still working on. I tell people that I sleep with a lobbyist. My wife lobbies me daily.

What is your favorite thing about politics?

I love the science. I actually enjoy the political science aspect of working on campaigns and formulating strategies and implementing those strategies. But we also love helping people. That’s why I do this.

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