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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Apodaca served his town

State Sen. Tom Apodaca, shown in a 2015 file photo, announced Monday he won't seek an eighth term. State Sen. Tom Apodaca, shown in a 2015 file photo, announced Monday he won't seek an eighth term.

When the 2002 reapportionment created a Hendersonville-centric state Senate seat, few surveyors of the political landscape would have pointed to Tom Apodaca as a likely candidate.

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A bulldog bail bondsman with a name that’s routinely mispronounced and shared by none of the Scots-Irish settlers on the reliable Republican ridge, Apodaca had been active in civic life mostly below the radar. Years later, he would blame his life-altering decision to enter state politics on “the two Lous.”
Lou Holtz, the legendary college football coach and motivational speaker, told the audience at a Boys and Girls dinner that people could be successful or significant. Apodaca had been successful. He decided to take a shot at significant. The second Lou, Lou Bissette Jr., a former Asheville mayor, encouraged him to go for it.
With the help of his longtime friend and unofficial adviser Jeff Miller and a close circle of people who knew lots of people, Apodaca won convincingly over two better-known candidates.
“The fact that a mountain bail bondsman with the last name of Apodaca rose to become a legislative leader is proof that anything is possible in America,” he said in announcing his retirement on Monday. “I’m proud that the conservative reforms we’ve passed have set North Carolina on a more fiscally responsible path. That was my goal all along.”
“Tom was a steadying influence when we made big decisions, and someone the caucus could always count on to solve big problems,” Senate Leader Phil Berger said. “I can’t overstate how instrumental he has been to the Senate Republican Caucus’s electoral and legislative success.”
Apodaca’s commitment to constituent service didn’t change when he got power. He helped people back home. He put the interest of the 48th Senate District first. And he helped in small and large ways when no one was looking. When he had his plane, he would not hesitate to loan it out to fly pediatric patients to Triangle hospitals from the N.C. mountains.
Closer to home, Apodaca’s work in Raleigh helped nail down Sierra Nevada’s decision to invest $100 million in a fabulous East Coast footprint in Mills River. He helped persuade Duke Energy to convert its Lake Julian coal plant to a cleaner burning natural gas plant. He put his powerful thumb on the scale to make sure funding formulas channeled more cash to Henderson County. Yet, because they were done behind the scenes without notice, a lot of his achievements for our area will never be known. We’ll miss Sen. Apodaca’s straight talk, good humor and press savviness.
The bull moose may be out to pasture, as he put it, but here’s betting that he’ll find ways to make sure that the farmstead continues to prosper. A success in business, Apodaca chose a fork in the road 14 years ago that led to significance. The community owes him a debt of gratitude for using the journey for the betterment of Henderson County.