Raleigh, N.C. — Whether you call him "Mr. Chairman," a "Bull Moose" or something less cordial, Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, won't be around to hear it much longer.
"It's time to move on," Apodaca, 57, said Monday. "Politics was never on my top 10 list. I have enjoyed it, don't get me wrong, almost every minute on the back row and the front."
Apodaca is the 19th lawmaker this year to either decline to seek re-election or leave his seat early.
The seven-term lawmaker served in the legislative minority during years when Republicans struggled to make a dent on state policy. That changed following the 2010 elections, when Republicans took control of the House and Senate, and Apodaca became the Senate Rules Committee chairman, the chief lieutenant for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Lawmakers take themselves out of running “Tom is not only one of my closest friends in the legislature, he’s one of my closest friends – period," Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a news release. "Tom was a steadying influence when we made big decisions and someone the caucus could always count on to solve big problems. I can’t overstate how instrumental he has been to the Senate Republican Caucus’ electoral and legislative success."
Apodaca won't leave office right away. Lawmakers return to Raleigh next year for the "short" legislative session to hammer out a budget and take care of any pressing matters. Voters will choose his replacement next year.
As Rules Committee chairman, Apodaca is the Senate's traffic cop, fending off political attacks from Democrats and occasionally keeping members of his own party in line. A bail bondsman by trade, Apodaca is known for leavening his sterner moments with humor. Asked on Monday if he wanted to spend more time with his family, he joked, "I don't think my family wants to spend more time with me."
As for what's next, Apodaca says it isn't politics. He said he doesn't have the inclination to run for Congress and, despite allowing that he's talked to a few people about potentially running for governor, he says, "I don't have a statewide race in me."
Asked to reflect on his time in the state Senate, Apodaca said he's been proud of what he's accomplished for western North Carolina, a region he said was long neglected by power brokers in Raleigh. That includes helping to bring the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s eastern national headquarters to Henderson County and working out a deal for Duke Energy to convert its coal-burning Asheville power plant to natural gas.
"Coal ash, too, would have to be at the front of the list," Apodaca said, pointing to legislation that lawmakers say will prod Duke to clean up unlined basins of toxin-laced coal residuals. "That legislation wasn't sexy, but it's something that we really needed."