@NCCapitol

NC Treasurer Dale Folwell mulling run for governor in 2024

North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell says he's considering a run for governor in 2024, setting up a potential GOP primary battle with Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

Posted Updated

By
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State Treasurer Dale Folwell is strongly considering a run for governor in 2024, setting up a potential GOP primary battle for the state’s highest office with Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson.

Folwell, who has been the keeper of the state’s purse since 2017, hasn’t made a final decision. But the Republican says he has been approached by several Republicans, including the head of the influential state employees’ association, encouraging him to declare his candidacy after this year’s midterm elections.

“I'm receiving a lot of calls of people who know my track record, know my results and the way that I approach attacking problems and not attacking people,” Folwell said in an interview with WRAL News, alluding to Robinson’s tendency to insult political opponents and members of the LGBTQ community. “At the end of the day, if you're going to be the CEO of the largest business in the state — which is the state — it’s results that's going to matter, not rage.”

Robinson didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

A hotly contested Republican primary hasn’t happened since 2008, when then-Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory defeated state Sen. Fred Smith. While an intraparty fight for statewide races isn’t unusual in North Carolina, there isn’t any recent history of two existing statewide officeholders battling it out in a gubernatorial primary.

A Folwell candidacy against a lieutenant governor who has all but announced a run for governor in 2024 could be an uphill battle. Robinson has endeared himself to former President Donald Trump, is a prolific fundraiser, popular guest speaker at GOP forums and has secured wide support from hardline conservatives who support his views on divisive social issues.

“It appears to me that he is the clear frontrunner among Republicans considering a gubernatorial run,” said Chris Cooper, a Western Carolina University political scientist. “There’s obviously statewide rumors that Dale Folwell will also throw his hat in the ring, but there’s no question that Mark Robinson would be the favorite in that primary.”

If Folwell decides to pull the trigger, he said he would seek to present himself as a pragmatic alternative with a history of policy achievements and fiscal discipline during his eight years in the legislature and six years as treasurer— a record that would stand in stark contrast with Robinson, who entered politics last year and holds a role with few responsibilities beyond presiding over the state Senate and being a member of the state education board.

“I was six years in the minority party in the House,” Folwell said. “I came there with the mission of saving lives, saving minds and saving money. And I was very, very successful in doing that. That's the definition of conserving. I'm a member of the Republican Party, but I actually govern.”

Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina, said her organization has 46,000 active and retired state employees who are committed voters with a long history of backing Folwell. Watkins said she believes Folwell has the right temperament for governor and that he has stronger ties to state workers than Robinson.

"I don't know Mark Robinson and I don't remember a time that our membership has discussed him," Watkins said. "He's not on the radar as far as our organization."

Robinson’s style of politics couldn’t be further from Folwell’s. The lieutenant governor came to office after an impassioned speech on gun rights to Greensboro city officials in 2018 put him in the spotlight and propelled him to political success.

Robinson secured the GOP’s 2020 nomination outright, defeating eight Republican primary opponents. Since then, Robinson’s national profile has only continued to rise.

As lieutenant governor, Robinson has invited controversy by likening abortion to murder, making demeaning comments about women, insulting the LGBTQ community, criticizing lawmakers for promoting the Covid-19 vaccine and combating what he views as an indoctrination of public schoolchildren by liberal K-12 school board members and educators.

Robinson insists he is capable of separating his personal views from his current role as North Carolina’s top Republican executive officeholder and from how he’d govern as the state’s leader if elected in 2024.

“I am a person of strong conviction and whether people believe or agree with me in my personal conviction, what they should look at is this: They should look at whether or not my personal convictions have allowed me to be derelict in doing my professional duty, and I’ll submit to you that they have not,” Robinson said in a July interview with WRAL.

The lieutenant governor has also sought to present himself as a champion for responsible government spending, despite a history of financial woes that included three bankruptcies, seven years of unpaid federal income taxes and four unpaid local vehicle tax bills.

“Because of what we learned from those times and because of the principles that we’ve learned and applied since then, we’ve been able to find ourselves in a place that’s much better now,” Robinson said. “We want to make sure people in this state have the opportunity to do that as well, which is why I am so passionate about making sure that we have good economic opportunities, good educational opportunities and that those opportunities are open to everybody no matter what stage they may be in in their lives.”

Robinson’s said in July that his concern over the state’s economic future prompted him to work with lawmakers to secure $12 million in last year’s state budget for the community college system to develop an apprenticeship program that pairs small businesses with North Carolinians between the ages of 16 and 25 who want to enter high-demand fields, such as engineering, construction and mechanics.

“That money right now is being divided up amongst counties to do just that, to get people back to work in those professions that we find ourselves lacking in right now,” Robinson said.

The $12 million line item for apprenticeships pales in comparison to the $122 billion state pension fund that Folwell oversees and the $27.9 billion annual budget Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper signed this year that included sizable spending on education, economic development and transportation.

Folwell, who said he wouldn’t make a decision about 2024 until after the November elections, is confident his demeanor and credentials would resonate with voters if he runs.

“People are just sick and tired of being angry,” Folwell said. “People are sick and tired of having people at each other's throats. What people really want is someone who speaks to them like an adult and what they say makes common sense.”