Arriving at the N.C. Board of Elections just before 11 a.m., Brawley filled out the paperwork and paid the $1,424 filing fee. Brawley’s challenge to the sitting governor comes with just four months until primary voters head to the polls on March 15. The Iredell County businessman served nearly 20 years in the N.C. House in two stints, retiring in 1998 and then returning in 2012 only to lose a bid for re-election in 2014.
Since coming up short in his 2014 primary, Brawley worked with opponents of the toll lanes on Interstate 77, just outside of Charlotte. His supporters encouraged him to seek statewide office.
— C. Robert Brawley (@RobertBrawleyNC) December 9, 2015
“I think it’s sorely needed in our state. I think that the people of North Carolina are looking for a new direction,” said Reidsville resident Ira Tilley, a Republican. “They are seeking someone like Mr. Brawley who is not politically beholden to corporations. I agree with a lot of his initiatives. I am fundamentally opposed to the toll road project that the governor and the legislature have tried to ram down people’s throats. Statewide polls have revealed that a clear majority of our citizenry are opposed to our tolls, yet for some reason they refuse to listen. I also agree with Mr. Brawley in support of traditional marriage and protecting 2nd Amendment rights.”
Despite fundraising gaps, statewide name recognition hurdles, and a few burned bridges in Raleigh, Brawley seems confident that he could get support statewide.
“I’ve always been outspent in my campaigns,” said Brawley. “There’s too much emphasis on pay-to-play anyway. I’m going to earn it, not buy it.”
It will be an uphill battle for Brawley as he fights a governor and Republican majority in the General Assembly that can tout the lowest unemployment numbers and income tax rates in years. While the McCrory campaign declined to comment on Brawley’s candidacy, former House colleagues are already privately expressing concerns. Brawley often took positions contrary to the majority’s agenda. He was also heavily criticized for filing a bill in 2013 that would have allowed legislators to accept gifts from lobbyists and rolled back the ethics reforms passed in the wake of former Speaker Jim Black’s (D-Mecklenburg) 2007 scandal. Black eventually pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges for accepting money from a chiropractor’s group.
In 2013, Brawley had a public conflict with then-Speaker Thom Tillis, which led to Brawley resigning as House Finance Chairman. Brawley read the resignation letter on the floor of the House, accusing Tillis of unethical actions as speaker. That conflict resulted in Brawley getting a vote of “no confidence” from the House Republican caucus; he was asked to stop attending caucus meetings.
“As a former state legislator who worked closely with Robert Brawley, I can say that by any measure, Robert Brawley is not fit to hold the office he seeks,” said former Rep. Ruth Samuelson (R-Mecklenburg), who served as Republican Conference Leader from 2012-2014. “Not only was he untrustworthy and ineffective as a legislator, he routinely attacked conservatives and the principles we hold dear. In the end, his campaign will be exposed for what it is: nothing more than another opportunity to promote himself and attack others, not help advance what is best for North Carolina,” Samuelson said.Shortly after the breakdown between the caucus and Brawley, he lost his primary for re-election to John Fraley. Earlier this fall Brawley expressed an interest in taking on Rep. Fraley again for that seat, but after consulting with supporters, he decided on higher office. Fraley is currently running unopposed in the Republican primary with the filing period closing on Dec. 21.
“Even though it cost me the seat, I will never regret my efforts to push back against cronyism and monopolies while serving the people in Raleigh,” said Brawley. “The people of North Carolina want honesty, integrity, and transparency in government. My record shows I’m not afraid to challenge the powerful special interests in Raleigh, and as governor, I’ll run them right out of this state.”
A former National Guard helicopter pilot and insurance salesman, Brawley has been married to his wife, a teacher, for 43 years. He said he plans to visit all 100 counties between now and March 15, campaigning on transportation issues and education policy.