Houston Barnes, one of the Triangle's own entrepreneurs, is campaigning for the 2nd Congressional Seat in North Carolina. In the interest of full disclosure, I first met Houston a few years ago during a pitch event for Triangle Entrepreneurship Week. He is active professionally in the local entrepreneurship scene of the Triangle.
Houston treats his campaign the same way he would a startup: "You start with an idea and a vision, and you build a team around it. Then you refine the product and go out to get people to join the journey with you," he said. Houston will need to take the 2nd District from Renee Ellmers, a Republican candidate who took the seat from Bob Etheridge in 2011 with the help of local Tea Party advocates.
A core part of running a successful political campaign is fundraising, something that Houston has experience with professionally. Immediately after graduating from UNC-CH's School of Law, he helped to grow Chesson Labs, a Durham based startup now turned internationally successful healthcare company. He worked on a team that raised over 4 million in funding for Chesson, while also serving as their Corporate and Executive Counsel.
Since then he has started his own law firm that focuses on startups and growth-stage businesses in the RTP area. His chances do not seem to be hurt by being married to one of the top Democratic fundraisers in the state.
Houston describes his site's state as an MVP that is spinning up. You currently can sign up to volunteer, donate to his campaign, and subscribe for updates. In the next few months, the website will be rolled out as changes happen with the new year. He is currently seeking campaign volunteers and fundraising for donations. During our chat, he mentioned that "Every little bit helps. It is amazing how communities come together over campaigns and elections."
There is a lot of ground to cover as NC's 2nd District includes: Chatham, Harnett, Lee, Moore, and Wake counties. They account for half of the counties classified as part of the RTP area.
He believes that "My work with startups have given me insight into what it takes to start and grow a business, and what kinds of challenges and needs business people have." He said that his ultimate goal is to be a reliable voice for the communities and businesses locally in Washington. He did not describe himself as a career politician, rather as a member of a new generation that is not mired in the problems of the past. "There's too many adversarial politics going on in Washington right now, and the older generation doesn't understand this. There are good ideas and bad ideas on both sides. We need to make laws that work well for everyone," he said.
Ellmers has other challengers in the mix on both sides of the political spectrum. On the Democratic side, Keith Crisco, a prior textile executive from Asheboro, filed papers for his intent to run this past Monday. Criscoserved as Secretary of Commerce under Governor Perdue. A Cary based talk show host Frank Roche, will also be challenging Ellmers this May internally within the Republican party. He has previously run unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination to Congress and for state treasurer.
The 2014 race will be hard-fought, as Ellmers defeated Etheridge by a margin of just 1500 votes. However, Republican support for Ellmers is strong in the district, so it will be interesting, to say the least, to see how things shake out.