GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Before official candidate filing resumed on Feb. 24, most of the chatter about who might replace U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in representing North Carolina focused on a couple of Democrats and three Republicans with name recognition.

When the filing period ended on Friday, 26 persons had journeyed to Raleigh and placed their names on the ballot for the primary on May 17 and the General Election on Nov. 8.

That breaks down to 14 Republicans, 11 Democrats and a Libertarian who would like the seat Burr has warmed since 2004, including a minister and psychotherapist from Greensboro who never has been elected to anything.

Tobias LaGrone of Greensboro is running for U.S. Senate as a Democrat. (NCNEWDAY.COM)

Meet Tobias E. LaGrone, who is listed among the Democrats but also calls himself a “conservative Democrat,” which is a definition you don’t hear very often.

He enters a race against a presumptive nominee, former Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, who has taken in nearly $5 million in donations and has more than $2.8 million left to spend. She also has received virtually every single endorsement in the race, including that of her chief opponent, state Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, who dropped out and now is running for Congress in the 14th District.

Since Jackson’s move, the Democratic side of the race has appeared so much clearer than the group of GOP frontrunners, 13th District Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance), former Gov. Pat McCrory, former Rep. Mark Walker and, more recently, newcomer Marjorie Eastman of Cary, who in the last quarter of 2021 reported to the Federal Election Commission nearly half a million dollars in donations.

There are several little-known names among candidates for both parties. The FEC has a page about LaGrone’s campaign, but that report did not show any financial contributions as of Dec. 31.

LaGrone may be new to politics, but he is no newcomer to the community, having lived in the Greensboro area for decades. And like many of those whose names are on this ballot, he describes the problems he sees, the solutions he believes and then points to the failures of others.

WGHP asked LaGrone to tell us more about his decision to run for the Senate. His responses have been lightly edited.

WGHP: Why did you decide to jump into the race for the U.S. Senate?

TOBIAS LAGRONE: I have been disappointed with the partisan politics that uses wedge issues to stir political bases, yet fails to invoke best practices, evidence-based solutions for our most pressing problems. I am a person of both faith and science. When it comes to climate change, justice reform, health disparities, childcare cost, and investment in early childhood education, the data is clear. The earlier we address such issues, the better the quality-of-life outcomes for all.  We live in a George Jetson world, with new technological advancements coming online every day, yet on Jan. 6, 2021, we witnessed those with a Fred Flintstone mentality attempt to bring the wheels of the democratic progress to a screeching halt. I am a thought leader who understands how all the pieces fit, from the cradle to the grave, from child care to the economy, my lived experiences provide me keen insight into providing meaningful solutions to help the families of North Carolina.

WGHP: What do you see as the key issues for our next senator?

LAGRONE: Affordable housing is a very pressing issue. Hard-working people in North Carolina have worked hard for decades to build friendly, safe, affordable, family friendly communities, only to have Wall Street investors come in and drive up home prices. Wall Street landlords are creating a generation of lifetime renters who are paying more to rent than they would be paying for a mortgage. This is unethical and must be addressed. Home equity has been a cornerstone of building family wealth and providing the next generation with a leg to stand on, yet would-be, first-time home buyers are being outbid by Wall Street investors who only care about profit and not about building wholesome communities.

In addition to addressing climate change and social justice reform, [I see] families are really struggling with affordable child care. I have been one of the most vocal leaders on this issue on the campaign trail. Spouses are choosing not to have children because they can’t afford child care, or they are limiting the number of children they have. This is a national security issue because for the first time in America’s history, our country’s births only exceeded deaths by 0.01%. In our very own state of North Carolina, 64 of our 100 counties had deaths to exceeds births. As a man of faith, I believe that families should be fruitful and multiply; as a man of science, I know it takes people to have a strong economy. We need pro-family economic policies to promote affordable childcare and also lift the high tax burden off of middle-class America. 

Voting rights for all is very important, voter suppression laws, and gerrymandering are all threats to our democracy. I support the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. I propose a Law Enforcement Malpractice Act: Just as nurses, medical doctors, behavioral health practitioners, etc., can be listed on a state registry for practice malfeasance, this act will develop a national law enforcement malpractice registry that will list officers who have been reprimanded, sanctioned, fired, or found to be unfit for duty. Secondly this legislation will empower the Department of Justice to permanently revoke an officer’s ability to engage in the practice of law enforcement anywhere in the United States if deemed necessary for the public good. Any duly authorized attorney or para-legal will be able to become a registered user of this data base. I understand that law enforcement is a difficult job, however public safety must be the first priority, and not the biased profiling of certain citizens. I am committed to supporting law enforcement, and I was instrumental in developing the City of Greensboro Behavioral Health Response program. In fact, I took the very first call where I co-responded with law enforcement to a mental health crisis call. I support funding the police and adding more behavioral health resources to also help officers remain safe and emotionally healthy while honoring their oath to protect and serve.

WGHP: What is your political experience?

LAGRONE: I have an undergraduate degree in political science. My first campaign work was with former Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy. I served as co-campaign manager for statewide judicial election in the state of Mississippi. I served as co-campaign manager for former Guilford County Commissioner Mr. Bruce Davis’ congressional campaigns. I completed my master’s thesis on the “Theological Political Thought of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” and explored how Dr. King’s quest for social justice was rooted in the Judeo-Christian motif of Biblical justice and equal treatment for all. I have always been an advocate for a free and democratic society. I served three years as a human relations commissioner in High Point, and currently I have the privilege to serve as board chair of Guilford County’s Community Action Agency. In these roles I have used my diplomatic consensus building skills with political leaders while advocating for funding to help the most vulnerable of our community. I am a “servant leader” who is committed to serving the people of North Carolina.

WGHP: You have participated in a couple of town hall meetings about this race. What prompted you to jump into politics at this level?

LAGRONE: I announced my run for the United States Senate in April 2021, and I have participated in over 12 Democratic forum events with many of the other Senate candidates. I am a thought leader and scholar who offers best practices, evidence-based solutions for our most pressing problems. Leaders of today have to be more than brute fighters, they must be thinkers, problem solvers and innovators. The old model of driving the wheels off the economy until the tires fall off is literally destroying the American dream for the working poor and those trying to enter the middle class. We need pro-family, pro-education policy that encourage job training, higher education, and vocational careers. With the rising technological and military power of China, Russia, Germany, India, Pakistan and others, it is not enough for a U.S. senator to look down the road. You have to be able to look around the curve in order to keep America in a global leadership position.

WGHP: You are known to be a pastor and psychotherapist. Are you still with Soul House Christian Fellowship?

LAGRONE: I have been pastoring for 35 years, and I currently serve as the senior pastor of Soul House Christian Fellowship, Greensboro. Due to the impact of COVID-19, our ministry closed our physical location in March 2020 and went completely virtual. We maintain a congregation with weekly ministry broadcasts and pastoral care outreach. Yes, I am a licensed clinical therapist, specializing in pastoral counseling and addiction psychotherapy. I am founder and CEO of the Behavioral Intelligence Group, Inc., where I provide my clinical services and consultancy work. 

WGHP: Can you give us some insights into your education and experiential backgrounds?

LAGRONE: I was reared on a small Mississippi farm by Bible-believing parents and grandparents This is why family is so important to me. No person is an island; therefore, we owe some of our present-day success to the sacrifices of past generations. I was the first in my immediate family to earn a college degree. I completed the Bachelor of Political Science at Jackson State University, Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry in Pastoral Care at Memphis Theological Seminary in Memphis, Tennessee. My lived experiences are more aligned with the daily life of North Carolinians. I have worked since I was a child, from the corn fields on the farm, to fast food jobs, to factory work, and now a small business owner. My wife and I have been married for 29 years – we married very young – and we have one daughter who is presently a first-year law school student. For the last 35 years I have had to scratch out a living to provide for me and my family. Whether it was pastoring working-class churches, or working entry-level jobs, I know what it is like to choose between food or medicine, shoes for you or shoes for your child. I have not forgotten the obstacles I have overcome, and I want to ensure that the ladder to the American dream remains strong and accessible for all.

WGHP: On your website you tout yourself is a pro-life, conservative Democrat. That’s a delicate definition in today’s politics. How do you persuade more liberal Democrats to move in your direction?

LAGRONE: As a Bible-believing servant leader, I believe that every life is precious from the womb to the tomb, from the cradle to the grave. Abortion should be a medical decision that is only considered in the most extreme circumstances like rape, incest, or medial life saving measures to save the mother. The liberal block of the Democratic Party has taken the conservative Democratic vote for granted. African American Democratic voters who are devout Judeo-Christian believers are tired of swallowing the bitter pill of going along to get along with the more liberal wing of the democratic party. It appears that the Democratic party has prioritized the agenda of progressive groups, LGBTQIA, and other constituencies, yet have failed to deliver significant socio-economic change for minority communities. The African American Democratic voting bloc of the Democratic party and other conservative democrats deserves more equitable consideration from the Democratic party.