09/23/08 — Sawyer discusses issues with GOP club

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Sawyer discusses issues with GOP club

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on September 23, 2008 1:35 PM

Campaigning against what he is calling the "mismanagement" of the North Carolina secretary of state's office, Republican Jack Sawyer visited Goldsboro Monday night, speaking to members of the Wayne County GOP Club.

Jack Sawyer

Jack Sawyer

Running against incumbent Democrat Elaine Marshall, who was first elected to the post in 1996, Sawyer acknowledged that he has a lot of work ahead of him. But he also said that he's confident that the excitement surrounding the Republican Party and the presidential race will trickle down and impact his election.

"My opponent is a 12-year entrenched incumbent, and as a down-ballot candidate, it's hard to get attention," he said. "But our base is energized. They understand that to affect real change, we need to elect new leadership -- Republican leadership.

"We can win this seat."

The primary duties of the secretary of state's office, Sawyer explained, are varied.

They include the regulation of lobbyists, acting as a clearinghouse for corporate documents and enforcing trademark infringement laws and charitable solicitation laws, as well as other business-related activities.

The position also holds a seat on the Council of State, the 10-member board that includes the governor and the other executive officials, that has the power to borrow money through certificates of participation and to buy and sell state property.

And Sawyer believes that now is the time for a change.

"There has been significant mismanagement in Raleigh. We have a two-party system in North Carolina, but we have one-party rule in Raleigh. When you elect your secretary of state, you're electing someone to serve all the people of North Carolina," he said. "It's time to put the interests of the taxpayers ahead of the politicians, and like any good CEO, I have a 100-day plan."

Number one on that plan is an audit of the entire Department of the Secretary of State.

The last one, done in 2002 by a Democratic state auditor, Sawyer explained, "revealed significant problems" in terms of financial controls and accounting. Since then, however, he added, there has been no follow-up.

"I think any responsible manager would have demanded the auditor come back in," he said.

The second item on Sawyer's immediate to-do list is to review the policies and procedures that allowed the names, social security numbers and other private information of thousands of residents to be posted online in 2006 -- without Mrs. Marshall taking action to remove them until forced by the General Assembly.

"It was a failure of management .... It was a failure of leadership ...," he said.

And the third and final item on his 100-day agenda is to bring more transparency to the office, posting the departments line-item budget online, as well as pushing the Council of State to provide live audio and video feeds of its monthly meetings.

"City councils and county commissions all across the state are providing this service, why can't we?" he asked. "It's a lack of political will."

But under a Republican administration, he emphasized, things could be different.

"We're outnumbered seven to three on the Council of State right now," he said, adding, though, that Republican victories in his race, the lieutenant governor's race and the governor's race would change that balance.

As to his qualifications for the seat specifically, Sawyer, 36, cited primarily his work experience.

Born and raised in Kinston, he is, by trade, a real estate attorney in Alamance County with his own practice.

"I'm not only an attorney, I'm a small business owner," he said. "I know what it's like to meet a payroll ... to pay for rising health care costs .... and we need leadership in Raleigh who has a strong business mindset."

Mrs. Marshall, on the other hand, he noted, has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and the state's trial lawyers association -- "not the most business- friendly groups."

"I think the secretary of state needs to be outside in the business community, working alongside the governor and the Department of Commerce to recruit new businesses to North Carolina," Sawyer said. "There is a lot the secretary of state can do to make North Carolina a more business- friendly state.

"But mismanagement has crept into the Secretary of State Department, and now after 12 years in office, Elaine Marshall is asking for four more. I really believe we need new leadership running that department."