Smithfield Herald

Keith Branch vies for clerk of court position so he can serve Johnston County

Keith Branch, a member of the Johnston County Board of Education and owner of an Allstate Insurance agency, is running for Johnston County clerk of court.
Keith Branch, a member of the Johnston County Board of Education and owner of an Allstate Insurance agency, is running for Johnston County clerk of court.

His red Lexus GS 350 has an “Elect Keith Branch” magnet on it, and the window of his Allstate Insurance office holds similar signs.

Keith Branch is vying for Johnston County clerk of court for the love of service.

“What motivates me is public service. I love helping people,” said Branch, who will face Smithfield paralegal Michelle Ball and Clayton attorney David Ford in the May 6 Republican Party primary.

The desire to serve is bigger than the the financial loss he would incur taking the job; his pay would drop, “I mean, drastically,” he said.

Branch wants to serve and says he has the qualifications to replace retiring Clerk of Court Will Crocker, who has held the job for 36 years.

“In my opinion, the clerk of court is the CEO of the court system,” Branch said. “So who better to do that than someone who has run a successful business for 16 years?”

Branch earned a degree in accounting from N.C. State University in 1986. He worked for the state auditor’s office for 10 years and in 1998 opened his Allstate Insurance office at 8838 U.S. 70 West in Southern Village shopping center.

His customer service has earned Allstate’s top ranking, “which basically means I was in the top 5 percent of 12,000 agents in the country,” Branch said. He deals with people’s problems every day and sees the clerk’s office as a place to expand his ability to help.

“In the clerk’s office, you’re dealing with people who are going through a bad time in their life,” Branch said. “What I do now with the insurance is the same thing. When you hear from these folks is when they’ve had a bad situation in their life. They’ve lost a loved one, they’ve been through a car accident, their house has caught on fire.”

At the clerk’s office, those hurting people need “tender loving care when they walk in the door,” he said.

His passion to serve comes in part from his father, Donald Branch, an insurance agent who died when Branch was 13. Once, when Branch was 10, his father hit someone’s dog with his car. He came home, took their dog and gave it to the other family.

“There was just a passion for helping folks. It was instilled in me,” Branch said.

Branch has a similar heart. Two years ago in June, then 17-year-old Charles Humphries of Selma received a prosthetic after losing his right leg to leg cancer. Branch organized a fundraiser for the prosthetic, which cost $70,000.

He rallied his church, Wilson’s Mills Baptist, and raised $80,000 in three months.

Branch also said he has the skills needed by the clerk of court. For one, he can multitask. He’s a member of the Johnston County Board of Education, a business owner and an active member of his church, where he has been a trustee, head of the deacons, a Sunday school teacher and lead tenor of the praise team.

Branch attends basketball or football games almost every Friday night, because, he said, “I thought as a school board member, I need to be involved, be active.”

And now he’s constantly campaigning for clerk of court.

“I don’t stop much,” he said with a smile.

Branch said he has intimate knowledge of the clerk of court position; when he was an assistant state auditor, he audited all of North Carolina’s clerks of court. He also audited “everything from universities and community colleges to state departments.”

That gave him a look inside the finances of the job and also taught him to deal with people’s problems with sensitivity. As an auditor, he said, “you were truly dealing with things every day that were going to affect people’s lives and their livelihood.”

Branch’s experience and upbringing led to his desire to serve, and he says service is his role in life. “I really think we were put here on this earth to serve other people,” he said. “I get my most enjoyment in life out of doing for others.”