On Sunday, 101 entrepreneurs and business leaders signed an open letter supporting Donald Trump. One of the names that may stand out — given the contentious climate and a steady stream of women accusing Trump of sexual misconduct — is Terry Neese, a small business owner, public policy strategist and women’s equality advocate.
Of the 101 names on the list, 15 are women. Neese is one of those women.
Neese started her own staffing agency in 1975, when she was 21 years old. She first met Trump about a decade ago and even participated in a business roundtable and visited him for a one-on-one meeting after the primaries.
When asked whether recent videos of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women made an impact on her decision to support Trump, Neese said, “I don’t condone anyone sexually assaulting another person. Period.”
After a brief pause, she said she has no idea whether Trump’s comments to Billy Bush in the “Access Hollywood” video were just “locker-room talk,” but that the accusations of sexual assault by numerous women are unsettling.
“Do [these accusations] disturb me? Of course they do. But I also think we have to think with our brains and remember that our economy is in trouble. The world is in trouble,” she added. “But if I have one more regulation that comes down from the labor department, I’m done.”
Prior to her endorsement of Trump, Neese was Carly Fiorina’s national finance chairman, but when Fiorina dropped out of the race in February, she did not immediately support another candidate.
But, as a small business owner, she says the economy is the No. 1 issue for her in this election. She’s felt burdened by regulatory and tax issues, a work-life balance and other headaches that come along with running her own company. That spurred her to get involved at the local, state and national level of public policy and advocacy for women’s issues.
As a member of the US-Afghan Women’s Council and past president of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), she’s also led the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA)’s Family Policy Center, where she developed policy ideas that helped women, families and small business keep more of their earned money and make better financial decisions.
The word “regulation” appears four times in the pithy eight-paragraph letter Neese signed. And that’s what Neese is fixated on getting rid of. She believes Trump will be able to reduce regulations and help small-business owners hold onto more of their income.
The letter’s claim that a Clinton presidency would be a “third Obama term,” struck a chord with Neese. “Trump would lessen the regulations and unshackle small business,” she says. “Small businesses are the growth provider of jobs and it’s important that we not have the regulations imposed upon on us so that we can grow.”
She says she ultimately signed the letter not because she shares Trump’s values, but because she believes he is the better of the two candidates to jolt the economy. Despite Trump’s fear mongering surrounding “America’s anemic growth prospects,” job growth remained solid last month, with the unemployment rate holding at 5.0%.
Still, executives like Neese contend the country is in a dark place economically. “I’m scared for our country,” she said. “When I look at everybody on the ballot, I believe that Donald Trump can turn it around economically.”
Driven by the letter’s argument that “Donald Trump is a businessman,” Neese says the core issue that she cares about is the economy.
But will Trump be able to win the presidency?
As of this writing, FiveThirtyEight projects Hillary Clinton has 88% chance of winning. CNN’s Poll of Polls (which averages the result from the four most recently publicly released national polls) has Clinton leading Trump by eight points.
Neese still thinks the outcome of the election is far from certain.
“Sure, I think Trump can win,” she said. “Three weeks is a lifetime in politics.”
Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.