Former CEO Jesse Thomas discusses entering GOP primary for NC governor
“I bill myself as a citizen public servant,” Jesse Thomas told Carolina Journal in a recent telephone interview.
The recently retired CEO of the Medicaid Segment of Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina is the latest candidate to enter the race for the Republican nomination for North Carolina governor. He declared his candidacy on Aug. 8.
“The governor is the chief executive officer of the state,” Thomas told CJ. “No other candidate on either side has that experience. It’s important that we have that effective business perspective, and having been a healthcare leader with a long and storied career of running and leading plans that are multibillion-dollar operations, that’s the kind of leadership we need in our next governor, our next chief executive officer for the state.”
Thomas now makes his home in Cary but was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi, to a family of sharecroppers. After high school graduation, he was accepted into medical school but changed his mind and decided to study the business side of healthcare instead.
Instead of going off “quietly into the night or out to pasture on the back porch, swinging with a lemonade in his hand” after retirement, he said he decided to put the knowledge that he has gained throughout the years and run to become the next chief executive officer of the state.
“I believe the people are becoming sick and tired,” he told CJ. “I know I am sick and tired of the contention, the acrimony, the vulgarity and profanity, and the polarization. We can do better and be better. I’m absolutely convinced that I can be the example that I want to see in our public servants.”
Thomas said he would like to continue the heritage of the state of being first in things like first in flight at Kitty Hawk; the first public university, University of North Carolina (UNC); and being the first in business the last few years; by being first in health, with a healthy economy, a healthy education system, and a healthy population.
He said the education system should be safe and focused on workforce readiness and preparedness. As far as health in general, he would like to go beyond physical health and focus more on mental health.
“I want to see as many resources, interest, and energy put behind mental health issues as we do with physical health,” he said. “There’s been the law of the land that would have parity between behavioral health and mental health and physical health for decades, but we don’t really practice it yet. And I want us to put our energy, resources and our innovation into doing just that so that whole person health becomes more than a catchphrase.”
Regarding the economy, he would like to see the income tax reduced to zero.
“I want to be able to put more money in the hands of the citizens so that they can exercise their resources and funds in a manner that they see best and consume goods and services and property,” Thomas said. “And on a revenue-neutral basis, I want to do that for senior citizens sooner than later, and I believe we can do it within the four years.”
He said close to 20 counties have a senior population that exceeds that of the birth rate in those same counties and would like to see more support for senior communities, assisted living services, geriatric services, and more mid-level clinicians and nurse practitioners. Thomas also said he wanted to have advanced physician assistants train community health workers.
On the business front, Thomas said some industries that are now overseas could find a home in the state with the right incentives.
A registered Republican for over three decades, Thomas likens Abraham Lincoln’s “Big Tent” philosophy — that brings everyone from different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences together — to his own and credits some of those principles from his time with the North Carolina chapter of the Forward Party. He said many feel like their voices aren’t being heard within the two-party system, and you don’t have to look further than the 36% of voters that have registered as unaffiliated.
He feels the Republican Party of today has strayed too far from its roots and would like to see a great reset to get back to what’s important.
“Our roots were noble and righteous, and they were about abolition, freedom, equal access, and opportunity, and we are often found straying from that when we listen to the voices of the extremists. And I want us to do better and be better,” Thomas said.
This isn’t Thomas’ first foray into politics. In 2000, he ran as a Republican for Congress in Colorado’s 1st Congressional District, where he got 3% of the vote in a district that was about 75% Democrat. At the time, he was the director of government and community affairs with Colorado Access, a Medicaid Health Plan.
Regarding Medicaid, he is disappointed that Medicaid expansion in North Carolina hasn’t been implemented yet. He called it “unacceptable” that the state is leaving over half a billion federal taxpayer dollars a month on the table for every month that it has not been
implemented. Medicaid expansion is tied to the state budget, which will not be voted on until the middle of September at the earliest, according to members of the General Assembly.
“Politics has gotten in the way of the interest of the people,” Thomas told CJ. “That’s where I’m back to my point about career politicians. They’re interested in their agenda versus the people’s business and the people’s agenda, and I would challenge our elected officials to get that budget passed by the end of this month because the Department of Health and Human Services can work with CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services] to be able to fast track the implementation, and do so in 30 days, so we could have that legislation budget bill by the end of August.
He said it could be implemented by Oct. 1, but if it slips beyond that, it might be pushed out for another quarter, which would be busy with upcoming holidays and candidates running for office.