This year was a different kind of year for Robert Reives II.
He spent a month of it laid up, mostly immobile with a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right leg.“It rolled up like a window shade,” he joked.
It’s better now, but he said had to learn to walk again and did much less campaigning than normal. One thing that didn’t change: he kept his seat as the state representative for North Carolina’s District 54, which includes all of Chatham County and part of Durham County.
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This year was a different kind of year for Robert Reives II. He spent a month of it laid up, mostly immobile with a ruptured quadriceps tendon in his right leg.
“It rolled up like a window shade,” he joked.
It’s better now, but he said had to learn to walk again and did much less campaigning than normal.
One thing that didn’t change: he kept his seat as the state representative for North Carolina’s District 54, which includes all of Chatham County and part of Durham County.
Reives, a Democrat, defeated Republican challenger Jay Stobbs by 15.5 points in Chatham County and more than 26.5 percentage points overall, his biggest margin of victory in his three elections in his first after his district shifted from covering all of Chatham and part of Lee County.
Reives spoke to the News + Record about the shift, about re-election and about a changed General Assembly heading into 2019.
Your district has included all of Chatham County since you first entered office, but do you feel like it’s different now? How does that change things?
I’ve got a whole different set of priorities than when it was Chatham and Lee. Chatham and Lee, I think, were pretty synergistic in the priorities they had. That was a pretty consistent, easy lift in the sense of knowing that, if I talk to Pittsboro, I talk to Goldston, I talk to Siler City, I talk to Sanford, I was pretty much consistently getting the same answer about how they wanted to proceed on issues.
Durham is a city, and it’s a real urban area and it’s a very, very progressive urban area, and because of that they’ve got very different issues. One of the biggest issues in Durham right now is light rail. We’re light years away from worrying about light rail (in Chatham). So I’ve got to balance those.
What does it mean to you that you’ve been re-elected to a third full term in office, especially after a district adjustment?
This election was really special, candidly, with the injury. To not be able to get out here and campaign. I had to be immobilized with my leg straight for about five weeks. I couldn’t get in and out of the car because there’s no car made for you to have your legs straight. Whereas I used to hit five to six functions in a day, suddenly I’m doing one, maybe two a week. To get re-elected by the margin I did, in a new district, it was amazing.
This time around, you and the Democrats are not facing a veto-proof majority in either side of the General Assembly. For people who aren’t keen N.C. political observers, does it matter, and if so, why?
Yes, it matters. It forces everybody to talk to each other. It gives the minority in this particular situation, where you have a governor of one party and a majority of the General Assembly in the other party, it provides an extra check and balance. This way, if a perceived bad idea goes through the General Assembly, the governor vetoes it, then we have to start back from the drawing board if everybody votes along party lines.
Your goal then changes as a General Assembly. Whereas before your goal was to just push ideas that you felt were great ideas and didn’t really matter what anybody else thought, then that has to go away. Now you have to push ideas that you have now discussed with the minority party to try to work out legislation that works for everybody. Not that everybody’s happy with, but that works for everybody, and it gets you closer to the point you’re trying to make so it does not get vetoed.
I believe that, for both sides, when we talk to each other, we come up with 100-times better legislation. The worst form of government is when you have a government that makes state policy that is only done by about eight or nine people. The absolute worst is a dictatorship. Beyond that, I can’t imagine worse.
As you go back in 2019 and 2020, what are you hoping to do for Chatham County, for the people that voted you in office convincingly?
I’m really keeping an eye on infrastructure for Chatham. Chatham Park’s moving, we’re doing a lot of development here in Pittsboro, especially right here at this circle (in downtown). Projects like that have really gotten on my mind. The consistency with Chatham and its government and its people makes it so that the priorities really haven’t changed from the last couple of years. My No. 1 priority personally for Chatham is internet.
It is just insane to me the internet problems that we have in rural areas when we’ve got so many municipalities and so many county governments that are ready to fix it. I really think that you’re going to have to start looking at internet like any other utility. You can’t keep letting that be held hostage by companies if companies don’t want to serve the need. I’m not saying companies should have to. I understand it’s not profitable, I understand it’s not profitable to come down to Goldston where I am and hook my internet up and hook my three neighbors up and go 10 miles down the road and run the T-1 line to four more people. But that’s where we’ve got to allow government to be innovative and step in.
I want to explore what works. Most other states in the country are figuring out how to make it work. I’m not even at a point where I’m ready to say incentivize everybody. I’m at a point to say, ‘Is there anything that works?’ If we do a full study, and I found out that nothing works, I’m at peace. But I’d be shocked that, if we did a full study, nothing works.
For the keen political observers this time — what’s a common misconception or myth about goings-on in Raleigh that you want to debunk, or something that might surprise people?
I think they’d be very surprised about how cordially most of us get along, and how well the majority of us, left to our own devices, interact. I was surprised at that. Issues that are not partisan issues, issues that the leadership does not feel strongly about, you see what government’s supposed to be. I think we’re the best example of what government is supposed to be on those issues.