RALEIGH — If you’re the Democratic Leader of the N.C. House in the midst of a busy (and sometimes contentious) legislative session — working on your own bills and rallying support on both sides of the aisle for legislation you believe in — you’re in near non-stop motion.
That’s how Rep. Robert Reives II, who represents Chatham County and a portion of Randolph in Raleigh, is these days. North Carolina is a busy place, and that’s reflected in the halls of the Legislative Building on West Jones Street. Gov. Roy Cooper’s state budget, released last week, is just one of dozens of issues occupying Reives’ days and nights.
Reives, 52, has held a seat in the General Assembly since 2014. As House Minority Leader, one of his most difficult responsibilities is keeping members of his party unified. But there are other onerous tasks, as well as those in which he delights. At the end of a long day in the legislature last week, Reives spoke with the News + Record about a number of topics.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with the announcement of VinFast’s production delay. Any insight on your end about it?
I’ve not seen anything that makes me think that we’re not still a “go,” and that everything is in good shape. I think all of us agreed, including VinFast, that they had an aggressive schedule. And had things just gone perfectly, I think they probably still would have been able to stay on schedule.
I don’t think this delay is something that would cause me concern.
You’ve co-sponsored the “Freedom to Vote Act,” joining Democrats in both the House and Senate to address voting rights ...
Yes, because I think that the bill tries to take into account the realities of today. And by the realities of today, I mean that you have to think about how we operate as a society.
People are working two jobs a lot; people have childcare issues ... It’s just not as simple to go out and vote, even for people who are motivated to vote. And we’re in a different world now; you have people going to the polls and experiencing voter intimidation …
With the reduction in the number of voting sites in some areas, it just gets more and more difficult for people to vote. In my mind, I can’t come up with a rationale reason why we would try to limit voting. We ought to be doing everything we can to encourage people to vote. We ought to be doing everything we can to make sure that everybody gets a chance to vote. I’d hate to think that because of someone’s job situation or childcare situation, or because of the way they were treated — not by poll workers, but by people at the polls — that will stop them from voting.
Other legislation being considered in Raleigh and elsewhere, such as House Bill 43, addresses gender-affirming medical treatment for minors and other issues, and have been criticized by some for targeting LGBTQ children. More than 200 related bills have been filed nationwide so far this year. What’s your take on this specific bill?
Well, if you look at the way that bill is worded, I don’t see how the bill is enforceable. You’ve got so many parts of the bill that are in conflict.
For me, I celebrate who we are as a country. And to properly celebrate who we are and where we’ve come from, I don’t know how you avoid talking about any subject. We want to make sure people are free to discuss subjects that come up, because children are naturally curious, teenagers are naturally curious.
If they want to know why six million people were killed in Germany during World War II, we’ve got to be able to answer those questions. And I don’t understand how we effectively serve that natural curiosity and make sure that these children are ready to go into the world by trying to make artificial limitations on what they can and can’t discuss …
And so I struggle with that. And I struggle with trying to micromanage education. And plus, I trust our school boards. School boards do a really good job of deciding what should be part of the curriculum. And one size does not fit all when it comes to what is good curriculum and really isn’t good curriculum. I think that local people ought to be able to make decisions on their own, which — you know, the whole time I’ve been in office — my position has been that as many decisions as we can keep local, we should keep local. We should step in only when we feel there’s a problem that we really need to address that can’t get addressed otherwise.
You’ve put together a bipartisan economic development trade caucus. What do you hope it will achieve?
I’m incredibly excited about it. And I’m glad that we’ve gotten so much support so quickly. And it’s a true bipartisan effort … We want to focus on companies here in the state, but at the same time we want to have an international focus. We want to be able to engage with these companies to find out better ways to recruit because we’re in a global economy. And when you’re recruiting companies, you’re recruiting against everybody in the world. What I’d like to accomplish is to find ways to make us more attractive to outside investors, number one, and number two, also to help us bolster North Carolina companies that we can help grow.
I’m glad we’re [N.C.] number one in business this year; I want us to stay number one. But it’s going to take a whole lot of work to keep us on top … And so now we’ve got to figure out what we do well, and keep doing that, and think about the other things we need to do.
More from Reives:
On the two years remaining in Gov. Cooper’s term: “Whatever your political party, Roy Cooper has been really good for us, as a governor, I would make the argument that he’s been a great governor, we have had an unprecedented boom, under him.”
On “getting political”: “At some point, we’ve got to stop the direction that we’re going as a state, as a country, when it comes down to politics. I mean, things have just gotten ridiculously political. Ultimately, government’s supposed to be about trying to help people, helping citizens, and it shouldn’t be about trying to do things to entrench yourself in power, or trying to make sure that your will override everything else. And to me, the concern I have going into 2024 is anything that lends itself toward a belief system that every person should not have a voice in our government. Government should be less intrusive instead of more intrusive in the lives of the citizens.”
On the freshman class of legislators: “Every session has been good because we’ve got a really incredible group of freshmen. I actually had some Republican lobbyists talking to me today, coincidentally, who made the same observation I did. And they were talking about how they’re so business savvy; they’re well rounded. And they’re policy people. That’s not a knock against any of the previous classes. But I do think that we have a group this year, that is surprisingly — they’re inexperienced in serving in this role, but they do bring a wealth of experience from different roles ... county commissioners, city council members ... and they really, really get it. So whatever negatives may be going on, in my mind, in the General Assembly, it’s really great to see good public servants and to have a chance to serve with them. And they have been outstanding, they make you really remember what you’re doing this for and what it’s all about.”
On how the people of N.C. should see the General Assembly: “This is a time where people really, really and truly should pay attention to their government. My concern is not who’s in the majority, or who’s not majority, or who’s ruling. My concern is keeping the fundamental structure of our government as it is. So I hope that people, the voters, really pay close attention. It can’t be about your party; it’s got to be about making sure that the institutions stay where they are. We take a lot for granted, because we do live in such a great country. We just have to be careful that everything that makes this country great is allowed to continue to push and prosper.”
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