JOHN HOOD COLUMN: Three Republicans vie to challenge Marshall

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024

RALEIGH — Our state’s constitutional system mirrors the federal system in some ways. North Carolina has three branches of government, for example. We have a bicameral legislature. And we have a judiciary composed of trial courts, a court of appeals, and a supreme court.

John Hood

There are also critical differences, however. One is that while the federal system concentrates executive power in the president and those he appoints to run federal departments and agencies, North Carolina’s executive branch consists of 10 independently elected officials. And most of their powers aren’t specified by the state constitution. They’re granted by the state legislature — which means lawmakers can take them away.

As the 2024 election cycle begins, we can expect the presidential race to soak up lots of attention. North Carolina’s gubernatorial race will, too. I’m sure I’ll devote many columns to these contests myself. But that means the other nine elections for Council of State are at risk of being overshadowed.

So, from now until the March 5 primaries, I’ll be writing a series of columns profiling candidates for these executive offices. After March, I’ll devote additional space to the general election contests for lieutenant governor, state treasurer, state auditor, state superintendent of public instruction, attorney general, labor commissioner, agriculture commissioner, insurance commissioner and secretary of state.

The latter is today’s featured race. Unlike identically named officials in other states, the secretary of state in North Carolina has little to do with election administration.

Actually, before last year I’d have written that the office had nothing to do with election administration, but a bill passed by the General Assembly in 2023 changed the composition of the state board of elections and classified it as an agency within the department of the secretary of state.

As a practical matter, this means little. The bill also states “the management functions of the state board of elections shall not be performed under the direction and supervision of the secretary of state.” Yep, this is just as odd as it sounds.

In reality, the secretary of state is an administrative and regulatory officer. Businesses, lobbyists and charities must register with the secretary of state to operate in North Carolina, for example.
Democrat Elaine Marshall was first elected to the office in 1996. A former state senator, Marshall has no primary challenger this year.

Three Republicans are seeking their party’s nomination to challenge her in the fall.

Jesse Thomas recently retired from Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, where he headed the insurer’s Medicaid division. Thomas is a longtime health-plan executive, working for enterprises in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and elsewhere. He also ran a health-purchasing office for the state of Illinois. Thomas advocates term limits for the office he seeks, and says he would use its powers to promote economic growth and reduce “red tape and overburdensome regulations.”

Chad Brown serves as territory manager for Pennsylvania Steel Company in the Gaston County town of Stanley. A former professional baseball player (for the Toronto Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates), Brown entered politics by winning election as mayor of Stanley, then went on to three terms on the county commission. He currently serves as chairman. If elected, Brown promises to “fight for the common person to help give them some direction through a cumbersome government.”

Christine E. Villaverde is a former police and probation officer who worked most recently as a safety and continuity of operations consultant for the state judicial system. In 2022, Villaverde was the Republican nominee for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District, losing to Democratic incumbent Deborah Ross. She says her professional experience has “laid a strong foundation” to “create effective solutions and policies for the problems facing North Carolina and America today.”

Thomas, Brown and Villaverde all have campaign websites where you can learn more about their backgrounds and priorities. North Carolina’s secretary of state has traditionally been a low-profile office but that doesn’t make it unimportant. Early voting for the March primary begins Feb. 15.

John Hood is a John Locke Foundation board member.