By Teri Saylor
Photo by Bryan Regan
Looking for employment during the recession after working in home security, newspapers and trucking, Jason Saine thought chairing the Lincoln County Republican Party might open some career doors.
“I had worked as a salesman for CPI Security in Charlotte, and whatever jobs I could get. I took the party chairmanship as much to network and try to find a job.”
That job turned out to be at the state capital, where he was appointed in 2011 to fill the unexpired term of N.C. Rep. Johnathan Rhyne, who resigned his seat after moving out of the district.
Seven years later, Saine’s political influence has soared. He is the 2018 chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an Arlington, Va.-based nonprofit that promotes limited government and free markets. ALEC shares state legislation that lawmakers customize and introduce. Saine joined the group after entering the legislature and became state chairman in 2013. While many Republican lawmakers remain active, the group has lost the backing of Google, IBM, Walmart and other large companies in recent years because of its conservative stances on gun control, environmental regulation and climate change.
The national post complements Saine’s increased power in Raleigh, where he is senior chairman of the House Finance Committee and vice chair of the Appropriations Committee. He has helped pass income-tax cuts and regulatory changes that Republicans credit for cutting the state’s unemployment rate in half since 2011. “Jason has a great grasp and knowledge of tax policy, economic development and information technology,” N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore says.
Saine’s work landed him atop the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation’s 2017 rankings of most business-friendly lawmakers, based on his voting record and a survey of 400 business and legislative insiders. Saine’s own struggles with unemployment contribute to his zeal for economic development. “When my son was born, I was looking for work, and as you got away from the cities, the real downturn in the economy was felt,” he says.
While Charlotte and the Triangle are growing rapidly, “we also need to understand that [adding] 10 and 20 jobs are really big deals to a small community.”
Saine grew up in Lincolnton, where his mother was a county commissioner for six years and his father worked at Timken Co., an auto-parts manufacturer. After earning a bachelor’s degree from UNC Charlotte, Saine worked for a trucking company and started, then later sold, a weekly newspaper. He’s also consulted on small-business technology projects, an interest he acquired when he designed a website for his mother’s political campaign.
Saine, 44, has sought issues with bipartisan support, including legislation aimed at improving wireless communications, blocking identity theft, and promoting science and math education.
Breaking with the Trump administration and some ALEC members who champion coal and petroleum energy expansion, Saine supports renewable energy and worries about climate change.
“My views on climate change and solar energy make me an oddity. I’m clean and green but conservative,” he says. The president’s support for tariffs “is antithetical to what a conservative economist would believe. We believe in free markets.”
Saine lives in the district of U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry, a fellow Republican who at 42 is younger than Saine and gaining clout in Congress. Saine says he has no appetite to run for higher office. “If opportunity knocks, great, but I don’t aspire to run for anything else,” he says. “We’ll just see what comes my way.”