More CEOs Have Political Aspirations This Campaign Season

Business owners and CEOs have always been an important part of the fabric of American politics, back to when a scrappy entrepreneur named Ben Franklin ranked as one of the most important founding fathers.

“Candidates, especially on the Republican side, have a conviction that their leadership in Washington, D.C., could help a listless economy.”

The last several campaign cycles have seen a strong representation of current and former company chiefs and owners getting directly involved as political candidates, on the national level as well as on the state and local levels where they’ve typically been populous. They have scored some important successes, such as Gateway CEO Rick Snyder’s victory in the Michigan governor’s race in 2010, as well as some high-profile failures, including former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina’s unsuccessful bid to wrest a U.S. Senate seat in California away from Barbara Boxer in 2012.

Anecdotally at least, the number of such candidates, especially on the Republican side,  seems to have crescendoed over the last six years out of a conviction by business owners that their leadership in Washington, D.C., could help a listless economy and, often, out of abject opposition to President Obama’s economic policies and attitude toward the contributions of business.

This campaign season, which kicked off officially on Labor Day weekend, hasn’t seen much let-up in the intensity of interest in higher political office by entrepreneurs and CEOs. Those who survived the primaries and are their party’s candidate for the November elections for the House of Representatives, for instance, include French Hill, founder of Delta Trust & Bank in Little Rock., Ark., who’s running on the Republican ticket in the 2nd Congressional District in Arkansas. “A conservative business leader—not a politician—fighting Washington’s attacks on Arkansans” is how Hill is running.

Other House candidates, all Republicans, include Dan Logue, a realty owner and state legislator from Yuba City, Calif., who’s running in the 3rd Congressional District in his state; Elise Stefanik, an executive of family owned Premium Plywood Products in upstate New York, who’s on the GOP ticket in the 21st Congressional District; and David Rouzer, owner of a grease-products distributorship in North Carolina, who’s running in his state’s 7th Congressional District.

“The nation’s economic slump—and candidates’ frustrations with what governments are doing these days—continue to make more of them believe they can, and should, make a difference.”

Many other candidates this fall are incumbents who retain or had business ownership. Florida is typical in that regard. Incumbents such as Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, and GOP Congressman Steve Sutherland, have distanced themselves from their companies for the time being, but bring a business chief’s thinking to their political offices.

Meanwhile, Florida also is typical in how entrepreneurs tend to populate the ranks of candidates for state-level offices, including Julio Gonzalez, a physician who owns his medical practice, and Jay Fant, a bank owner.

Business chiefs can be frustrated by the political process, both campaigning and once they may win office. But their records of accomplishment, the nation’s economic slump—and their frustrations with so much of what governments are doing these days—continue to make more of them believe they can, and should, make a difference, so they run for office.

Dale Buss: Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.
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