Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — The 2012 North Carolina Secretary of State race features two very different candidates. Incumbent Democrat Elaine Marshall first was elected in 1996, the first female ever elected to a statewide, executive branch office. Republican challenger Ed Goodwin is chairman of the Chowan County Board of Commissioners.
While Marshall previously served in the state Senate before being elected secretary of state, Goodwin is a newcomer to statewide politics. Yet Goodwin does not concede that his relative lack of experience disqualifies him for the job.
Before he became politically active in his home county, Goodwin spent 23 years with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, traveling all over the world as a special agent.
In a phone interview with Carolina Journal, Goodwin said he would use his experience as an NCIS investigator to do a “forensic analysis” of the secretary of state’s office with the goal of eliminating waste and inefficiencies.
Goodwin said he would take his investigative skills not only to every county in North Carolina but also to neighboring states “and find out why they’re whipping us” in economic development.
Goodwin says the secretary of state needs to be a “business diplomat,” working on behalf of business owners throughout the state and getting their message across to the politicians in the General Assembly.
“If the Secretary of State is doing his job, then people will take advantage of this information,” Goodwin said. “I think it should be a proactive position, not a reactive position. In my experience with the federal government, I’ve seen a lot of desk jockeys — people who wait for a problem to come across their desks.”
A big part of that message to politicians would be less government regulation over the private sector combined with a state budget balanced by cutting wasteful spending without raising taxes. Goodwin targets six areas where the state could improve its business climate.
Goodwin also believes the state needs to take a hard look at taxation and the regulatory environment, which he says are “shackling small businesses at every turn.”
“I don’t think North Carolina has done a good job of helping the businesses we have to survive,” he added.
In addition to his NCIS experience, Goodwin also cited his political experience in Chowan County as evidence that he’s up to the job.
When Goodwin was elected to the county commission, Chowan County was on the verge of bankruptcy.
“But we’re solid as a rock now,” Goodwin said. Goodwin also cited Marshall’s apparent disinterest in Chowan County as evidence that she’s out of touch.
“You would think the Secretary of State for sure would come to Chowan County. She’s never been here,” Goodwin said. “In fact, I’ve heard from every Council of State position except the secretary of state.”
In a phone interview, Marshall disputed the notion she is out of touch with North Carolina citizens.
“People are saying they get good customer service from the secretary of state’s office. People talk about how friendly my staff is, how helpful and responsive they are,” Marshall said. “People who use the office certainly know and certainly know that we’re doing it well.”
Marshall noted the progress the office had made in the 16 years she’s been secretary.
“When I took over this thing, it was a mess,” Marshall said. “We had to go back to basics. We had an outdated system [and] employee morale was terrible. I was able to get the confidence of the General Assembly and a little bit of money to embrace technology and I was really able to transform the office.”
Technology has indeed been the key for businesses across the state. It’s what “levels the playing field,” Marshall said. The creation of an electronic notary was a major accomplishment.
“You’d be amazed at how many things require notarization, internationally and domestically,” she said. “We spent years building the legal and statutory framework to have the course with the register of deeds offices. It helps those companies that want to do more business electronically, whether it’s domestic or international.”
The department’s business database is another invaluable tool for companies, Marshall said.
“People are using those data bases to make decisions — who to buy from, who to sell to, who to partner with. All of that reduces risk in business,” she said.
Regarding economic development, Marshall said her role as part of the state’s “readiness response team” makes her available to answer questions within her expertise as companies make final decisions about where to locate.
Marshall drew criticism for her appearance at an Occupy Raleigh event last year. When asked about it, she also noted her appearance at a Tea Party event, which, she said, supports her view that the secretary of state’s office is politically neutral, in spite of the fact that she must campaign for her job every four years.
“There are policy issues, but there are no politics,” she said. “I don’t care if they’re Democrat or Republican, big business or small business. My job is to equalize opportunity for North Carolinians and not play favorites. They’re all starting at nothing when they walk through our door. We’re a maternity ward. We give birth to babies every day. That baby happens to be business.”
As voters head to the polls next week, Marshall urges them to stick with the known quantity.
“My experience is when the car’s running well, you don’t go looking under the hood,” she said.
Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.