RALEIGH – In the 2016 elections, Republican businessman Michael LaPaglia took on the longest tenured statewide office holder in the Old North State: Secretary of State Elaine Marshall. Marshall, a Democrat who has tried and failed to run for other offices, has lorded over the Secretary of State’s office for more than 20 years. North Carolina NASCAR llegend Richard Petty even ran against her, and lost the race, something the King is not likely used to doing.
LaPaglia, though, came closer than any challenger before him, receiving more than 47 percent of the vote and giving Marshall a scare. That race was full of negative headlines for Marshall, even a nascent effort in the legislature to investigate her for possible impeachment.
No one has ever come back to challenge Marshall a second time, but that is exactly what LaPaglia plans to do. He announced Saturday his intention to run again to be North Carolina Secretary of State in 2020. We had a chance to speak with him about his motivations for taking another crack at it, and what solutions he is offering voters.
So, round two? What is motivating you to again take on the longest tenured statewide officeholder in North Carolina and why should voters feel more confident in your vision for the office?
MP: My background is really related to both business and politics, working to build strong business communities. For 25 years I was a consultant to museums, historical sites, and corporations across the country, looking at how we can take the history of communities, companies, and learn from that and build into stronger communities as we grow. Helping to understand where we came from, and how that affects where we’re going, how we can build into something stronger.
I had also worked in political campaigns and party politics since I was young. I always enjoyed doing things that make a community better. I looked at North Carolina and saw that we had a Secretary of State’s office that was being run as a bureaucratic mess. Later I found out that there’s actually real corruption inside the office and decided that I was going to stand up and stop that. Those were the reasons I got into running [in 2016] and the reason I think we did so well in the first run.
Secretary Marshall was conferring state licenses upon unqualified aliens, illegal aliens who are not qualified to receive those benefits under federal immigration law or state law. It’s bad enough that it’s happening, but what we saw is that the Secretary and her staff actually came out and lied and misled the General Assembly, the press, and the public about what’s actually going on in there. I believe they felt they got away with it, for now. I’m not the kind of person to let that slide, and we’re going to keep pressing that issue and more that we’ve discovered as we move forward.
Here we are in January 2019, the 2018 elections are over. We are just 11 months from the filing period opening for the Secretary of State race again, and now is the time to get out and define the message that this campaign is going to run on. Typically, what candidates for these types of offices have done, first of all they don’t run a second time. This is the first time that [incumbent Secretary of State] Elaine Marshall will ever have anyone come back at her a second time to run. We’re doing that because we came closer to her than anyone ever had before. She has had 20 years of reelection campaigns and nobody ever got as close as we did, nobody came back after the first time, so I’m coming back. There’s more to talk about. The conversation got cut short, by the media and the establishment that let her off the hook.
[Marshall was discovered to be conferring notary licenses to illegal aliens in direct violation of state and federal law. Even giving a notary license to a man with active deportation orders. This author actually broke those stories with another news outlet. Beyond mere mistakes, the practice was actually a defended policy of Marshall’s office. A few state lawmakers presented evidence of this illegal activity and moved to investigate and possibly impeach Marshall. However, legislative leadership, after giving lip service to holding her accountable, ultimately wimped out in the interest of not rocking the Establishment boat.]
So, why now, so early in 2019, are you announcing this run?
MP: We’ve got to announce, we’ve got to get out there and fundraise, because I have complete confidence that the Democrats will put money behind saving that office. We had almost 48 percent of the statewide vote for the Secretary of State office, which is unheard of in her tenure. So, we are nipping at their heels.
The exciting thing will be how this race moves forward, with all of the solutions we have where she has let the state and business community down, and that’s if she decides to run again. Either way, we’ve still got the same issues in that office. It’s really not just a personality issue; what you’re dealing with is corrupt government, and that takes a lot more than one person.
What are some of those solutions you’re looking to implement as Secretary of State?
MP: We want to streamline the operations. We want to make it less bureaucratic and dictatorial in its operation. Last time I ran, I’d tell stories about the kind of bureaucratic inefficiencies plaguing this office, and somebody inevitably, every time, would stand up and say, “no, no – I got one better for you than that.’ For example, a lady sent her business registration in and signed her first name and last name, and wrote “Pres.” to indicate that she was president of the company. Everybody that I know that’s evewr been in business could figure that out; it’s pretty clear. Secretary of State’s office sends it back to her and says she has to spell out the word “President” indicating that they knew exactly what she meant as well, but extended the process, needlessly, by weeks.
Like I said, I was telling that story and someone said, “No, no – I’ve got a better one for ya.” This person got their form, filled it out, signed their first name, middle initial, last name, wrote my title out, sent it in – it came back to them with a note that they must put a period after the middle initial before they would process the paperwork! It’s absolutely ridiculous, and it’s an unnecessary burden on business owners to deal with such a bureaucratic mess. In this day and age, when North Carolina is a technology state, that we are not embracing and leading technology for these government offices is abysmal. The leadership is not going to change in that office for as long as Elaine Marshall is there. While the dressed up the website a little bit after I pointing all this out, but as far operation, as far as the interaction with businesses and how that office operates, it has not changed at all.
What is the main message you want voters to take away from your announcement today?
MP: I want to reform the operation of the Secretary of State’s office. I think it’s current condition is a disservice to the people of North Carolina and it needs to be cleaned up. We’ve proven we have the best campaign to get in there and do that, to win and make this office a true service to North Carolina citizens and businesses, and not the bureaucratic mess it is now.