Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2013

RALEIGH — In late summer of 1982, Carl Ford hadn’t run for an election, he hadn’t been on the radio and he spent most days working on a tobacco chaw-covered floor at Cannon Mills Plant 1 in Kannapolis.
Trying to supplement an income from the on-a-week, off-a-week mill schedule, Ford went to WRKB, a local radio station. Nothing was available, the station manager told him.
“He said, ‘If you want to sit in there and watch the guy and train, we might be able to use you down the road,’ ” Ford recalled. “I did that for almost two weeks and the guy called in one morning and said, ‘My car broke down.’ ”
Ford took to the air waves. He exceeded expectations.
“Manager comes over to me afterward and says, ‘You did a good job. You’re hired. Can you start Saturday?’ ” Ford said laughing.
In the last 30 years, Ford has maintained that perseverance.
He ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners in 1990, ’92, ’94 and 2004. He also failed to win the primary in a N.C. House race in ’96.
But since 2008, Ford has had the hot hand.
He spent four years with the county commissioners and became the chairman before running unopposed for N.C. House District 76.
He owns WRKB.
On the sixth floor of the main legislative building in Raleigh, Ford sat in his cramped office, about the size of a walk-in closet.
It’s a freshman legislator’s office, much smaller than one of a senior lawmaker.
Tacked to the walls, Ford has photos of Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms and Dale Earnhardt.
He leaned forward, flipping through a leather-bound schedule.
Things move quickly in Raleigh, he said, and he often eats en route to meetings. He’s still adding his weekly meetings to a paper schedule.
His legislative assistant, Kelley, shares an adjacent office closest to the hall.
“Kelley, when is that motorsports caucus? Is that today or tomorrow?”
“It’s next Tuesday,” she replied.
Ford had just run from his Health and Human Services Appropriation Committee meeting Wednesday. He’s on seven committees.
But he counts himself lucky to have been awarded the seven committees he requested — and to have an office with a window.
To his right, a microphone angled toward his chin. He hasn’t broadcast with it yet, he said, but will start again soon.
He said he doesn’t want to place the extra air-time burden of his Christian radio station on any of the other employees. He also still loves it, he said.
Ford checked his watch. His next meeting was at 1 p.m.
Outside Ford’s office, Salisbury City Manager Doug Paris waited, presumably to discuss Rowan commissioners’ request for the county airport to be legislatively de-annexed from Salisbury.
Local issues now blend with state issues, Ford said.
Sometimes, like in the airport case, there’s no clear cut answer.
“You’re going to have things like that,” he said. “You just open all the doors and say we’ll look at it and we’ll go from here.”
Ford credits his wife, Angela, for supporting him through the years.
He also credits Rowan County commissioners Chairman Jim Sides.
After his fourth loss at the county level, Ford said, the disappointment set in, but Sides stayed in his corner.
“It was real discouraging. I’ll admit that,” Ford said. I looked at it as, ‘You don’t give up, you don’t quit, especially if it’s something you believe in.’ That’s how I was brought up.”
Sides encouraged him to run again, but this time, Ford needed more name recognition.
Sides helped him onto the Board of Social Services and the Rowan County Planning Board.
“He didn’t let it bother him,” Sides said. “Every election is different. It depends to a great degree on how the political winds are blowing. Several of the times he was running, they just weren’t blowing the Republican way.”
Sides said Ford has been accused of being a Sides “clone” over the years. But he said the perception couldn’t be more wrong.
“He’s an independent thinker. Carl has a mind of his own,” Sides said. “We have a lot of common ground on issues. In particular, things that have spiritual value.”
But Sides said he discouraged Ford from running for the state House last year, telling Ford he could have more of an impact by staying at the county level.
“He said he was going to give it a whirl,” Sides said. “He said if he didn’t like it, he could come back in two years.”
Ford said he’s working on three priorities for the current session: pro-life legislation, Second Amendment rights and transportation issues.
The county could see a significant impact if he succeeds with his plans for changing Interstate 85, Ford said, which could include new interchanges at the China Grove exit and a possible Old Beatty Ford Road exit.
“We’re working hard on some transportation issues,” Ford said. “We’re trying to speed up the widening process of I-85 in southern Rowan and northern Cabarrus.”
Ford said the N.C. Department of Transportation has already spoken to him about widening the interstate stretch, but it would take years before construction began.
“If you get the interchange and you get the widening. It’ll be perfect,” Ford said. “We just can’t wait a decade.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.