Rep. Karl Gillespie, R-Macon, is a first-term House member who represents the state’s four westernmost counties: Cherokee, Macon, Clay and Graham. He has a five-hour commute to Raleigh when the legislature is in session. He serves on agriculture, education and wildlife resources committees.
What are the current and past jobs you’ve held outside of politics? I started to work in the telecommunications industry in 1982 and spent 17 years traveling primarily in the U.S., completing large-scale telecommunications infrastructure projects and becoming part of the company leadership team. In 1999 I came home and started a regional communications company that specializes in cabling, computers, fire alarms, security systems, audio systems, video systems and all other low-voltage systems for both residential and commercial customers. I served one four-year term as county commissioner in Macon County. In 2001 we sold our commercial cattle and have been in the registered black Angus business since then. We currently run 150 mama cows and my son has a thriving honey business.
What lessons from those roles have you applied to your elected position? Very little can be accomplished by yourself. It’s about teamwork and bringing people together with different views for a common cause. The cattle business is much like being in the legislature, you have to know where you are going before you know where to start.
If you could enact a single piece of legislation into law today, what would it be? Legislation that would give citizens in rural N.C. the same opportunities as those in metropolitan areas. Two that come to mind are health care and broadband. Another top priority would be to create an educational system so that our graduates can compete in a global environment and fill the much-needed trade positions.
Where do you most enjoy taking an out-of-town visitor in your district? My district has so many wonderful places to visit: I tell folks we will show them some things they never knew existed and some things they never will forget! From the waterfalls in the Cullasaja and Nantahala Gorge to the waters of Santeetlah Lake, Cherokee Lake, Lake Chatuge and Lake Nantahala to the mountaintops of Wayah Bald, Standing Indian, Tusquitee Bald and Huckleberry Knob. Then we would take in some small-town atmosphere and local food in one of our many towns.
What is your favorite hobby outside of work? I enjoy spending time with my family, working on the farm, and visiting different parts of my district.
Who do you most admire, and why? I have been very fortunate to have folks at various stages of my life that were able to make an impression on me which formed me into who I am today. But as a fifth generation Maconion, I very much admire my ancestors who settled in these rough untamed Appalachian mountains. They carved out a way of life, worked to better themselves and were always the first to help a neighbor in need.
What’s the best advice you’ve received about how to get legislation passed? I am still trying to figure that out! Work with those who have a shared interest on both sides of the aisle to develop legislation that will be supported.