Leigh Brown, a longtime Realtor, author, podcaster, motivational speaker and owner of a North Carolina-based RE/MAX franchise, is hoping to be the Republican party’s nominee for the vacant Congressional seat in North Carolina’s 9th district.
The election was won, last September, by Republican Mark Harris, but after allegations of illegal handling of ballots, the state’s Board of Elections called for a new election, with the crowded Republican primary scheduled for May 14 and the general election scheduled for September 10.
“I do believe there’s no time left to wait,” Brown told Inman in an exclusive interview. “If I want to serve and I want my communities to be better, I do believe that we need people in Washington, D.C., to make decisions in a better way.”
When the special election was announced, Brown said it wasn’t on her radar but she had several people reach out and ask her to consider running. She had previously run for North Carolina’s state house of representatives in 2014.
Brown, who has also contributed to Inman and spoken at past Inman events, believes her experience as a Realtor will translate well to politics and it’s why she would be a good candidate to take on Democrat Dan McCready, who is running unopposed in the Democratic primary.
“The way that Realtors make decisions is we have conversations, and we build relationships,” Brown said. “I’m pretty sure that everybody who has any bit of success in real estate knows that when you sit across the table from somebody, you don’t look for things to fight about, you look for what’s going on and seek solutions.”
Brown specifically noted that Realtors are creative in problem-solving, fantastic with branding and marketing, they know how to connect with people and know how to build long-lasting relationships. For most Realtors, it’s about what’s best for the person across the table, not the Realtor.
“Government was supposed to be built for the people, by the people,” Brown said. “Which means government is supposed to serve us in the community. As Realtors, we know how to serve others.”
Brown’s background also lends itself to knowledge of the homebuying process, she explained, an experience that, for example, a lawyer entrenched in Washington, D.C., might not remember. That can be particularly useful when it comes to discussing reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac or other topics related to housing, Brown told Inman.
In Brown’s district, inventory is too low and prices keep going up, she said. Affordability has become a real issue for people in her district and service people like firefighters, teachers and police officers can no longer afford to live where they work.
Brown doesn’t yet have any specific policy proposals she is bringing to the table when it comes to making sure more people can afford a home. But she told Inman she supports extending and expanding low-income tax credits for developers to build more affordable housing.
“Low-income tax credits are a wonderful tool that is used to help developers build housing developments that are going to be at a price point that people can afford,” Brown said. “We have a lot of elected officials that don’t understand tax credits or how they work. They think it’s money.”
Brown also favors fewer regulations for building. She said the cost of housing has gone up in many markets because of government overreach and overregulation. The lessening of government regulations is one specific area in which Brown praised President Donald Trump.
“[Trump’s] approach in removing regulations has been overwhelmingly positive for small business and for housing, and I would love to support the continued reduction of regulation,” Brown said. “You keep adding regulatory burdens, you keep increasing the cost of housing.”
Brown doesn’t always agree with the rhetoric used by Trump but said she’s the type of person who looks more at what someone does, than what they say.
“I look at what he’s done as president to reduce regulation,” she said. “Tax reform has been so helpful to Realtors, to Realtor brokerages, to investors. It’s been so good for our marketplaces and allows people to make additional hires. Small businesses are hiring more … I just try not to read the tweets and look at the outcomes instead.”
The National Association of Realtors has argued that Trump’s tax reform plan has actually had a negative impact on homeownership.
Brown said she’s willing to work across the aisle and have conversations with Democrats, who are currently in the majority in the House of Representatives. She’s opposed to Democratic initiatives like the Green New Deal and moving away from the Electoral College.
Brown believes the Green New Deal to be cost prohibitive, especially the idea of retrofitting every building to be more energy efficient to reduce carbon emissions.
“Obviously it was proposed by someone that doesn’t have the breadth of knowledge of real estate and construction costs and development,” Brown said. “One of my jobs, as someone who has done adult education for several years, would be to go to reps who support things like the Green New Deal and sit down and chat about my specific concerns and help them look at it in a holistic and realistic view.”
Activists in support of the deal argue that the cost of not taking revolutionary action to combat climate change and lower carbon emissions will be much higher in the long run.
If elected, Brown won’t give up her real estate business; it will continue to operate as normal. She’s already resigned from her role with NAR’s Realtor Political Action Committee (RPAC), where she was a fundraising trustee.
RPAC has yet to commit to supporting her campaign but will review its merits through the normal process and make a determination, according to NAR.
Brown’s brokerage, Leigh Brown & Associates, according to its own data, closed 231 homes for over $68 million in sales volume in 2017.
Brown isn’t worried that running this campaign will hurt her business but acknowledges that there is some risk of losing out on clients with different political views. It’s a risk she believes is important to take.
“We can’t control the decisions of other people,” Brown said. “In my business for many years, most of my clients have had no problems with me having political opinions. The way I conduct my political life is to not be hateful.”
On Brown’s campaign website, she calls herself a “conservative outsider” who will support Trump and bring “a strong pro-gun and pro-life mindset to the table.”
Her personal website prominently features a photo of her standing in front of a historical marker memorializing a home where Confederate President Jefferson Davis once stayed. She told Inman that she wasn’t making any kind of statement or sending any message with the photo.
“That’s just a historic marker in the community,” Brown said. “Not trying to send a message outside of ‘I’ve been here forever.’”
“I grew up in the South — a lot of people who grew up in the South know it’s just history,” Brown said. “It’s part of the conversation. If you ignore the fact that history happened and you had history happen in the community, you’re leaving yourself in danger of repeating it in the future.”
North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District comprises all or parts of Mecklenburg, Union, Anson, Richmond, Bladen, Robeson, Cumberland and Scotland counties.