Four candidates are squaring off in the May 8 Republican primary for the right to challenge incumbent Democratic Secretary of State Elaine Marshall in the November general election.

Candidates Kenn Gardner, Mike Beitler, A.J. Daoud, and Ed Goodwin are crisscrossing the state, making the case that they are best suited to create a more business-friendly secretary of state’s office in a lagging economy.

“The secretary of state administers the process to do business,” Gardner said. “I think most people would question whether or not the office is providing good service. It’s a place where you can make North Carolina a business-friendly state. The office should be about the business of business. If you’re a corporation, it’s the place to go to do a lot of different things. It’s also the place you go for a lot of family issues.”

One aspect of the secretary’s office that Gardner believes is sorely lacking is its website, which he calls one of the “worst among other council of state websites around the country.”

Not only is it tough to find information, Gardner said, “but you have to scroll through campaign ads for Elaine Marshall” to get to it.

An architect by profession, Gardner’s resume also features considerable experience in public service, starting as a member of Cary planning and ending most recently as chair of Wake County’s Board of Commissioners.

Gardner was defeated for re-election in 2008 during the Democratic sweep. Still, he’s proud of the relationships he helped build with Wake County business owners.

“Building those relationships was important in Wake County, and I think we were successful at doing that,” he said.
Gardner also stated as one of his accomplishments a department-by-department review of Wake County government to eliminate waste.

Beitler agrees that a thorough audit of the secretary’s office is in order.

“There really are a lot of things the secretary does, to be fair, but it also looks like a lot of things are being duplicated,” Beitler said in a phone interview. “You have to make multiple phone calls to get anything done — nobody really seems to know where the information is being stored. I think we can clean that stuff up fairly quickly.”

Beitler also agrees that the secretary’s website needs work, adding “it’s impossible to navigate and find what you need.”

Beitler is a business professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He ran as a Libertarian candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Beitler believes strongly that the key turning bringing more business to North Carolina is to “get the government out of the way.”

“There are regulations out there that have nothing to do with protecting customers,” he said. “If we could get taxes and regulations lowered across the board, it would cause a boom across this state.”

Daoud is president of Cox-Needham Funeral Home in Surry County. He is vice chairman of the Pilot Mountain Planning and Zoning Board and formed Widowed Persons Organization of Surry and Stokes counties. He also worked as police officer in Miami.

“I’m very diversified,” Daoud said in a phone interview. “I’m the only candidate with experience in municipal government, managing a nonprofit, as an executive for a public corporation, and as a small business owner.
Daoud stated a practical reason for getting into the secretary’s race. When he decided to go into business for himself, he tried tapping every resource he could, but there was little, if any, help.

That’s a theme Daoud hears on the campaign trail.

“The one thing I keep hearing is the service from the secretary of state’s office to the taxpayer is very, very poor,” he said. “There are a lot of antiquated things are happening in the secretary of state’s office, and you need the office to go into business.”

Specifically, Daoud cited as problems the fact citizens cannot go online to incorporate and cannot go online to renew professional business licenses. Corporate renewals are “in essence a second corporate tax return.”

“All these obstacles are keeping people from getting into professions, businesses that could stimulate the economy and make things a lot better for our state and community,” he said.

In addition to making the office more business- and user-friendly, Daoud said he would require every corporation renewing business licenses to prove that all its employees are legal citizens, a move that “would be very easy to do without any additional cost to the taxpayers.”

Daoud also took Marshall to task for her support of the Occupy Raleigh movement.

“Any public official that supports an anarchist group like that should not be in office,” he said. “I support the right to protest, but we’re not dealing with a normal protest group. We’re dealing with squatters.”

Efforts to connect with the Goodwin campaign for a phone interview were unsuccessful. A native of Edenton, Goodwin is a U.S. Air Force veteran who served 21 years as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service before returning home following is retirement.

Goodwin is currently chairman of the Chowan County Board of Commissioners. According to his website, he “believes in less government regulation over the private sector,” adding he will “work hard to get the government out of the way.”

In a YouTube video posted on his website, Goodwin said he was inspired to run local office after he found out that Chowan County was in financial trouble. As the first Republican elected commission chair, he helped bring the county back to financial stability.

“We’re back in financial good standing,” he said.

Goodwin believes small business is being crippled in North Carolina, and it will be the secretary’s duty to identity why that’s happening and “take it down the street to the legislature to change that.”

Goodwin said the first action he would take as secretary would be to call each of the state’s 100 county managers and find out “what’s good and what’s bad.”

Sam A. Hieb is a contributor to Carolina Journal.