Lawmaker Interview: Rep. Josh Dobson of NC 85

Feb 6, 2017

With lawmakers back in Raleigh, we’re talking to some of the representatives from out west.  Today, Josh Dobson, a Republican of Nebo who serves the 85th district that spans Avery, McDowell and Mitchell Counties.  He’s in his 3rd term.  

If it wasn’t obvious, Josh Dobson wants to make it clear.  He loves the 85th district.

“We have tourism, we have Grandfather Mountain in my district.  We have ski slopes in my district.  We have the Blue Ridge Parkway for the fall and summertime in my district.”

It’s an area Dobson knows well.  He’s not a transplant.  He grew up there.  His upbringing instilled in him what he calls ‘small-town values,’ to which he points to his Christian faith and the notions of hard work and community togetherness.  As to how he got interested in politics, Dobson points to three things.  First, he got a job at a local factory and started to think about what he wanted to accomplish.

“The second thing was, oddly enough, I read ‘Profiles in Courage’ by John Kennedy and it talked about going against the grain and trying to do what’s right for the people you represent.”

The third was 9/11, which Dobson said had quite an impact on him as it did so many.  So he started thinking about running for office.  He was elected a McDowell County Commissioner and served two years.  When then-Governor Pat McCrory appointed Dobson’s predecessor Mitch Gillespie to serve in his cabinet, Dobson was appointed take his place in the state House, where he’s been ever since.   Dobson says he’s not an ideologue.  He wants to seek consensus.  There are some issues like House Bill 2 where he squared up with most of his colleagues.

“I supported the bill, and if the bill was in front of me again, I would support that component.”

On other issues, like education, he’s more apt to oppose the majority of his party with his opposition to private school vouchers and expanding charter schools.

“I can’t speak for the eastern part of the state and I certainly can’t speak for the urban areas, but public education in Avery, Mitchell, and McDowell counties is working.”

He doesn’t shy away from explaining his votes, like when he supported his party’s push to limit the new Democratic governor’s powers in a controversial special session.  He said there were parts of the bills he liked.  For instance, subjecting Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointees to Senate confirmation.  

“That is something that I advocated for under Governor McCrory, and that happened to be in that legislation.  So that was something that I favored.  That was something that I supported both ways.  So someone can question the timing, and I understand that, but I look at the legislation based on what’s in front of me at that time.”

Perhaps most notable to Asheville residents was when he opposed a bill pushed by Republican Senator Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville that would have split Asheville into districts for city council members, a bill that was opposed by the entire Asheville city council and Buncombe County delegation, except Apodaca.  Here he was on the House floor. 

“We’ve heard it said here today, regardless of party, that the members of the city of Asheville have concerns about this.  So member, for me personally, because I wouldn’t want this to be done to Marion or Newland or Bakersville or Banner Elk, or any other small town that I represent, I’ll be voting no on this bill.”

Dobson was one of several Republican members to speak in opposition, in a dramatic reversal of fortunes for the bill, which seemed to be sailing to passage.  Dobson said if that had been done to a town in his district without his consent, that would have been problematic to him.

“So I just tried to put myself in the place of those who this was happening to and I felt like I was compelled to get up and speak against the bill at that particular time.”

There will be a slightly different dynamic for Dobson during this long session, with a new governor.  Roy Cooper faces a veto-proof Republican supermajority, and his powers may have been diminished in that special session, but he’s not powerless.  He hopes to find consensus, but Dobson says there are already issues, citing this example.

“The unilateral move to expand Medicaid in North Carolina was amateurish and naïve on his part.”

Dobson says he’s all for having a conversation about expanding healthcare, but the unilateral way Cooper went about expanding Medicaid didn’t help.

“I think that poisoned the well to start with, so we’re going to have to overcome that.  I’m still optimistic, but that’s something that we’re going to have to overcome to try to work together.”

Dobson says he hopes Cooper will set the right tone on the issues they could potentially work together on.

“Expanding pre-K, expanding subsidies, working on those things that we can do together.  I’m hopeful and I will be his biggest advocate.”

Lawmakers will have some time find that common ground.  History shows the session is likely to last until probably sometime around July, August, or even September.  

The full conversation with Rep. Dobson is above.  Below is a shorter profile for broadcast.