Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Up front: Gimme shelter

Several months ago, we published a story about former N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca’s plans to start lobbying in Raleigh after a required six-month cooling-off period. Though law firms had offered him jobs, he was leaning toward setting up his own shop.

That’s what he did, forming Vista Strategies & Solutions Group LLC with an office near the capitol. There’s little reason to fuss over the Hendersonville Republican’s ethics. He’s following thousands of other politicians and their groupies, cashing in on their access to decision makers.

What’s more telling is Apodaca’s initial list of clients. Each is what they call in the gangster movies “buying protection.” It’s done with gnashing of teeth, but it’s a no-brainer decision for these industry giants: Making a small investment in a shrewd politico can ward off problems that could cost them many millions of dollars. Here’s his list:

Tobacco giants Altria and subsidiary Philip Morris USA make products that can shorten your life. Enough said.

The N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association is fighting to retain control of the distribution of craft beers, which are grabbing market share from big brewers.

London-based IGT sells technology to the state lottery, which faces image problems after The Charlotte Observer reported that a lot of convenience-store operators and employees score repeated wins. Insider trading?

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare is a public mental-health managed-care organization that upset lawmakers by paying its CEO more than $1 million last year.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is the state’s dominant health insurer. Apodaca joins former Raleigh Mayor Tom Fetzer and ex-House Speaker Harold Brubaker, both Republicans, in making sure it stays that way.

Apodaca’s clients won’t win every battle this year. His brash manner ticked off some former colleagues. One hopes small businesses get a fair shake. But with the bulldog on board, there are two safe bets. First, the cigarette, beer, lottery and health care folks will be in a good mood at the end of the session. And second, most lawmakers, who will earn less than $25,000 this year for their public service, will wonder how they can follow Tom Apodaca’s career track.


“We at Piedmont Investor Advisors very much appreciate the coverage of our firm in your January issue. At the same time, I thought it might be useful to provide your readers with some additional context around the other two companies mentioned in the article.

North Carolina Mutual Insurance Co. and M&F Bancorp have played vitally important roles in building the foundation for the growth and success of multiple businesses in our community over many years. Their founders — primarily members of the Merrick, Moore and Spaulding families — were pioneers who overcame substantial obstacles to establish groundbreaking, minority-owned corporations that were based in Durham but went on to operate on a much bigger stage. These companies, in turn, helped open the doors to others that would follow, including Piedmont.

As you noted, my great-grandfather played a role in the establishment of North Carolina Mutual. However, his life’s work was defined by founding and leading for nearly 40 years what is now North Carolina Central University. The impact of having access to quality education is long and far-reaching. Similarly, the historical success of North Carolina Mutual and M&F provided both inspiration and a training ground for generations of future North Carolina business leaders. Those of us who have followed in their footsteps owe all these gentlemen a profound debt of gratitude.”

Isaac Green
President and chief executive officer
Piedmont Investment Advisors

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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