Wayne Sasser, Rowan County’s newest state legislator, says he’s a ‘conservative able to work with others’
Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2021
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — After the 2020 election, Rowan, Cabarrus and Stanly counties now have the North Carolina General Assembly’s only pharmacist representing them in Raleigh.
Rep. Wayne Sasser, a Republican, serves District 67 in the state House.
And despite only being in his second term, he currently serves as chairman of both the Health Committee and the Appropriations on the Department of Health and Human Services. He’s vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, vice chairman of the Insurance Committee and a member of various other committees .
Born in Cabarrus County, Sasser calls Stanly County home because he’s been there for at least 60 years. He grew up on a family-owned farm that saw more than 1,000 high schoolers a year visit to see exotic animals such as camels and antelopes.
Sasser, who turns 72 on Monday, is a graduate of West Stanly High School, and he completed pharmacy school at UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973. After working for 30 years at Medical Pharmacy of Albemarle, Locust and Uwharrie, he retired about five years ago.
His wife, Nancy, taught in the Stanly County School System and has served on the Stanly County Board of Education. While he served on local boards related to health and economic development, he had no experience as an elected official before being elected to state office in 2018.
Sasser said he had been asked by some locals to consider running for office. And since both of his sons, Cameron and Chase, were no longer on the farm when he retired, he had the time and interest to pursue public office.
“I thought, ‘We’ll go to Raleigh and see what we can do,'” Sasser said.
In his first race, he beat Republican incumbent Justin Burr, who had served the district for nearly a decade, by nearly 1,000 votes. Then, Sasser defeated Democratic challenger Karen Webster in the general election.
Sasser said his first election was a rather contentious, hard race that involved about $200,000 spent across both campaigns.
But elections are still “popularity contests,” he said, and he was well-known in Stanly County. Additionally, he credits his health background with giving him an “in.”
In 2020, he was unopposed in a bid for re-election.
Sasser said he didn’t have a great impression of politicians before serving in office, but his biggest surprises since working in Raleigh include the number of lawmakers who are nice, work hard and maintain an easier-than-expected ability to work across the aisle.
“There’s as much to do here as you’re willing to put the time in,” he said.
He credits himself as a “conservative able to work with others.” As a pharmacist, he’s used to serving people from various walks of life. And especially in health care, Sasser said legislation needs to be “inclusive, not exclusive.”
“You don’t want to pass a bill that’s good for nurses and pharmacists and hospitals, but places an unfair amount of responsibility on doctors,” he said. “Sometimes the hardest thing to agree on is how we get there. But you can’t fall on the sword for every issue at the end of the day. If it helps your constituents or the taxpayer … then you’re doing your job.”
Another surprise for Sasser? The pandemic.
He acknowledges that some aspects of the pandemic have been politicized. And while he understands people have many questions, it’s important for people to receive the vaccine.
“Right now, we’ve got more people screaming that they can’t get it instead of they’re not going to take it,” he said, adding that seeing counties like Stanly not receive adequate doses leads to even more mistrust. “We need to make sure that those who need it most are getting the shot in their arm.”
Sasser has not yet received the vaccine, but intends to after more people receive it. He and his wife recently recovered from COVID-19. He had an appointment scheduled to receive the vaccine just one day after Nancy received a positive test result three weeks ago.
Though Gov. Roy Cooper didn’t have the benefit of hindsight when he first began making decisions to respond to the pandemic, Sasser said he disagreed with putting the state’s Department of Health and Human Services in charge of mitigating the pandemic as they already have a “full slate of issues” to navigate such as Medicaid transformation and mental health services.
Instead, emergency management staff would have been more appropriate, he said, because they “practice every day how to handle these things” by managing natural disaster emergencies.
Sasser didn’t agree with shutting down gyms, especially since many of those who go to gyms are generally healthy people. He told business owners to be responsible, but to “ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”
“I don’t think we should have shut this country down,” he said. “If you don’t feel safe going to a restaurant, don’t go.”
Sasser also said the governor and his staff should do a better job of being transparent about how many vaccines they’re receiving and what problems they’re facing with the federal government.
“We’re going to have to find a way to do it better than we have in the last two months,” he said.
Sasser plans to file at least 10 bills for the current legislative session, ranging from legislation related to vaccines to annexations to the Clean Water and Natural Gas Critical Needs Bond Act of 1998.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.