Despite having no prior political experience, Thomas Apodaca won the Republican primary for the 48th District state Senate seat, beating out three other candidates — all of whom had held public office before. He now faces Democrat Robert C. Burris (who was unopposed in the primary) in the general election. (Burris was not available to be interviewed for this story.)
“The thing that bothers me most is the budget,” says Apodaca, a Hendersonville businessman. The Republican candidate calls the state’s efforts to fix its financial nightmare “$800 million worth of Band-Aids.”
Take, for example the half-cent sales-tax option recently approved by the state to make up for the money it withheld from municipalities: “Even with the half-cent sales tax, Polk County will still be $1 million to $2 million short,” says Apodaca, who doesn’t see new taxes as a way out in any case. “We cannot afford more taxes,” he declares, arguing that such measures make it harder to recruit new businesses to the state. Instead, he’s calling for “a hard but fair game to find cuts.”
High on the list are some 3,000 to 5,000 vacant state-government jobs that he says need to be trimmed.
Air quality is also on Apodaca’s agenda; he says supports the recently passed Clean Smokestacks Act. But the candidate maintains that the first duties of government should be to “take care of those who cannot take care of themselves and to educate our children.” Apodaca lives with his wife and two children in Laurel Park, outside Hendersonville.
What prompted Apodaca to run? “I ask myself that every day,” he said with a laugh. When the new 48th district was drawn, residents of Polk and Henderson counties saw an opportunity for better representation.
“We’ve always been on the edge of districts,” notes Apodaca. The new district, which was formed in June after a legal battle over redistricting, also includes part of Buncombe County. Apodaca, who says he had no plans to run, let his friends talk him into it. And from where he sits now, “I think my chances are pretty good,” he says.
Thomas M. Apodaca
Home: Laurel Park
Occupation: Entrepreneur (has several businesses)
Education: Western Carolina University (B.S. in business), Leadership Hendersonville
Years in Community: 25
How much money will you spend on race? $50,000 to $60,000
Questions and answers
Mountain Xpress: Do you support a state lottery? Why or why not?
Tom Apodaca: The idea of a referendum on a lottery, says Apodaca, is “a dead issue.” As for the lottery itself, he observes: “The revenue projections are not accurate. I don’t think education will benefit as much as they say it will.” Apodaca also predicts that, as lottery money fills gaps in school funding, the state will simply withhold other funding. “Ultimately, it appeals to a lot of people who can’t afford to lose money.”
MX: Studies in other states have shown that for every 10 percent increase in tobacco taxes, the number of young smokers drops by 6 percent, and the number of cigarettes smoked by youth drops by 11 percent. The World Bank says a 10 percent tax increase has cut the number of smokers by from 4 to 8 percent in every country studied. Given those numbers, do you support the state Senate bill that would increase North Carolina’s cigarette tax by 50 cents?
TA: “Go for it,” says Apodaca, adding, “But reduce taxes somewhere else.”
MX: Boston is spending more than $1 billion to undo the mistakes they’ve made in recent decades running wider and wider roads through the middle of the city. Can we learn from their mistakes? Would you prefer to see transportation funds spent on widening highways or on alternative transportation plans?
TA: “We definitely have to look at alternative transportation,” he says, adding that he’d like to see rail service from Asheville to Raleigh. But, he notes, “We are at a crisis level now with 240, 40 and 26. We have to do something now.”