Lawmaker Interview: Susan Fisher of Asheville

Mar 21, 2017

With lawmakers back in Raleigh, we’re speaking with some of those members from out here in the west.  Today, Susan Fisher, an Asheville Democrat.

Fisher represents Buncombe County in District 114 in the state House of Representatives.  She was born in Asheville.

“I grew up in the Haw Creek area.  Haw Creek is in east Asheville.  I have such fond memories.  It’s a lot of area that has been in my family for over a century.” 

Fisher got started in politics at a young age, serving in student government, and she went on from there.

“I actually had this incredible opportunity to work for Jamie Clarke, James McClure Clark, who was the Congressman from the 11th District.  When he was a first term Congressman in the eighties, I was in his Capitol Hill office being a legislative correspondent.”

Fisher says that experience on the Hill gave her the public service bug.

“Came back home to Asheville to raise our family and got involved with the League of Women Voters.  I was president of that organization for two years, and then went on to get involved with my children’s schools.”

Fisher has now been in the legislature for over a dozen years.  She’s in a safe Democratic district, running unopposed in November.  But despite district lines that benefit her personally, they hurt the Democratic Party, and Fisher wants district lines taken out of the hands of politicians, even if it means she’ll have more competition. 

“There are victims of gerrymandering.  There are also beneficiaries of gerrymandering.  And I know both sides of that, and I come down very solidly in the camp that says we need to allow our voters to pick who represents them, and to have a choice.  So I’m not afraid of it.”

Despite her long experience in Raleigh, Fisher is actually stepping back from leadership roles.  Last session she was deputy leader of the House minority caucus and has also been a whip.  

“I knew change would happen.  I think I sort of embraced it in that way.  And in my view, if someone is ready to step out there and lead and do something, then I want them to come on and do it.  It is hard work.”

This session has already gotten off to a rocky partisan start, with Republican legislative leaders taking many steps to strip new Democratic Governor Roy Cooper of power.  Judges recently struck down several laws they passed to do just that, but upheld one allowing the Senate to require Cooper’s cabinet choices to go through a confirmation process, a move Fisher was no fan of. 

“What we’re seeing with these Senate confirmation hearings is, I think, just a little bit more of a power play on the part of the Republicans, to show their base and to show their opposition, that they are in charge.  What it does really is it delays good working government.”

There’s also the contentious issue of House Bill 2.  Repeal efforts are faltering.  One reason for that is that Republican leaders say there aren’t enough votes for a clean repeal, which is the only option that makes sense for many Democrats, Fisher included.

“I am a no vote on anything that is short of a full repeal.”

One of Fisher’s priorities this session is introducing bills to raise the minimum wage.  She says Asheville particularly is so reliant on the service industry workers that are too often underpaid.  Fisher knows the bill faces an uphill battle in this legislature, but…

“I think it’s a conversation we really need to have and continue to have until we make these changes.”

Fisher admits to feeling frustrated as a member of the minority party, not being able to easily push her bills forward.  She says she has strong opinions based on her upbringing and the constituents she represents.

“But I realize the importance of being able to make friends across the aisle and to find out about people where they live.  You know, it’s not just about coming to Raleigh and representing your constituents.  These people are human beings, and we need to find out more about each other, so that we can work together.”

Fisher says she’ll keep trying to find those areas of common ground with the other party.  For BPR News, I’m Jeremy Loeb.