Long-time state legislator retiresWritten by Becky Johnson
N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, will retire from the state legislature this year after 14 years in office.
Haire will be 76 next year and said that he realized it’s time to trade in the long drives back and forth to Raleigh for some quality time with his grandchildren.
“I am in great health and everything but you don’t want to push the edge of the envelope too hard,” Haire said, citing the 300-mile haul to Raleigh.
Plus, he really wants to go to Alaska.
“I have never been to Alaska. I could never go because the time to go is in the summer and I am always tied up in the summer,” Haire said.
Although Haire said he has known for some time that this would be his last year in Raleigh, he kept the news of his retirement surprisingly close to his vest. Besides him, only his wife knew, Haire said.
“I didn’t want to say anything until now. The cat is out of the bag today,” Haire said Tuesday morning.
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After Haire made the announcement, word was spread primarily by newspaper reporters, who broke the news to everyone from political analysts to party leaders in the process of calling people to get their thoughts and comments.
Among those who learned this way was Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who served closely in the legislature with Haire — both as fellow Democrats and as representatives of neighboring legislative districts. Rapp met the news with “a great deal of sadness.”
“I am surprised that Rep. Haire will not be returning to Raleigh and more than a little disappointed,” Rapp said. “I think he has brought a very sharp mind and has been a strong advocate for Western North Carolina over these 14 years. So I can tell you his knowledge and his experience will be sorrowfully missed.”
N.C. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, served with Haire for 12 of his 14 years in office, representing the counties that neighbored Haire to the south.
Despite being from the opposing political party, West only had good things to say about Haire. They disagreed philosophically on issues at the state level, but when it came to local issues important to the mountains they nearly always worked together, West said.
“Haire was a good legislator. He looked after the people in his district. I enjoyed working with Phil. I can’t say anything bad about him at all. We’ll miss him,” West said.
The two even carpooled to Raleigh occasionally or caught a plane together in Asheville. And besides, Haire’s son is married to West’s niece.
Janie Benson, chairman of the Haywood County Democratic Party, said Haire would be hard to replace.
“I think Phil has represented his district well, and stayed in touch with the people,” Benson said.
Looking back at 14 years of state office, Haire said one of his crowning accomplishments was the Safe Surrender Law, which allows a mother of a newborn baby to turn it over to a responsible party, such as a hospital or police department, and walk away without penalty. Haire fought for the law after a young mother in his district placed her newborn baby in a trashcan. The baby died and the mother went to jail. Haire realized a bill was needed making it legal to safely surrender the newborn without a parent being punished for abandonment.
Haire was also one of the leading advocates of the Clean Smokestacks Acts, and consistently received high rankings from conservation groups for his pro-environment voting record.
But it’s the little things that truly defined Haire’s career, the incremental measures he fought for every day, from funding for the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee to a highway appropriation for a second entrance to Tuscola High School.
“He’s been really dedicated about working hard for this area,” said former N.C. Sen. John Snow of Murphy, Haire’s counterpart in the state Senate for several years. “He dedicated 14 years to public service, and that’s no small thing.”