Tom Fetzer is a conservative lobbyist who has also served as chairman of the NCGOP, vice president of the Pope-funded John Locke Foundation, and mayor of Raleigh. He was elected to the UNC BOG in March 2017.
A protégé of the late Sen. Jesse Helms, Fetzer pushed the BOG in a much more conservative direction.
Fetzer got his start as an aide to US Sen. John East, but his political career began in earnest while working as an operative in Helms’ National Congressional Club in the 1980s. Fetzer was a protégé of Helms and Republican strategist Carter Wrenn. The Helms Congressional Club helped elect Bill Cobey to Congress and later Fetzer himself as the first Republican mayor of Raleigh in 1993. Fetzer served three terms with the help of Helms’ conservative Congressional Club. During his tenure Fetzer demonstrated that even a mayor could be influential in pushing a conservative political agenda. His administration facilitated an era of largely unregulated suburban sprawl.
Fetzer was vice president of the Pope-funded John Locke Foundation and headed the group’s foray into local politics as the director of the organization’s Local Innovation initiative. His connection to the group began while he was Raleigh mayor. Fetzer took a part time job with the John Locke Foundation in 1999, at the end of his mayoral term, after deciding not to run for governor. At its 10th anniversary, the John Locke Foundation had become more activist with an experimental private school scholarship program and local government efforts led by Fetzer. While Fetzer was working at JLF advocating for “school choice” and Christian education he was appointed to the board of Trinity Academy, a private Christian school in Raleigh. Fetzer advised the school on a real estate purchase while he was the outgoing mayor of Raleigh.
Fetzer’s career was not free of financial controversy. He had personal tax problems as well as campaign finance violations as a campaign manager which concealed a candidate’s $94,000 debt to National Congressional Club. His personal financial troubles included a federal tax lien and loan co-signed by a client. Specifically, Fetzer had his millionaire client Bill Graham co-sign a real estate loan in 2008 “in the same way that parents of a teen-ager might.”
Fetzer was elected chairman of the NCGOP in 2009 in a contentious race and said he would revive the party without moving to the “mushy middle.” He was NCGOP chair in 2010 when Republicans won both houses in the NCGA. Citing the help of $1.7 million from Real Jobs NC and Civitas Action, Fetzer said the win would not have been possible without the “powerful element” of outside groups.
“I felt this building for a long time.” – Fetzer on the 2010 Republican takeover.
He was replaced as NCGOP chairman by recently-indicted Robin Hayes in January 2011.
Fetzer is now a registered lobbyist who represents clients including BCBS, NC Beer & Wine Wholesalers, Pepsico, DraftKings and FanDuel. Fetzer was a lobbyist for 20 different entities in 2017 and has been registered yearly since 2011.
In September 2017 the BOG made substantial changes to the UNC system after Fetzer wrote a “scathing” letter to President Margaret Spellings and then chairman Lou Bissette about their handling of Silent Sam. The BOG met and then lowered tuition and fees, reorganized the staff of UNC System President Spellings, and discussed moving the system headquarters outside of Chapel Hill. The rapid-fire “flurry” of resolutions caught board members off guard and highlighted clear divisions on the heavily Republican board. Board members called Fetzer’s letter inappropriate but Fetzer defended it and said that it would be “negligent” of the BOG not to provide guidance to university leaders.