A leading Republican state senator accused Gov. Pat McCrory of a “flagrant violation of power” and used crude language to deride fellow lawmakers for pushing a bill to crack down on puppy mills.
Sen. Bill Rabon, the chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, made the remarks in a private meeting earlier this month with animal welfare advocates and the Brunswick County sheriff.
Rabon called the legislation – one of the governor’s top legislative agenda items, championed by first lady Ann McCrory – an “abomination” and declared it dead for the 2014 legislative session.
“It came to the House without being vetted. It was bullied out of committee by the executive branch,” Rabon said in the meeting. “The executive branch had absolutely, absolutely no business sticking its nose in the legislature and that sort of issue and for the governor to want a particular piece of legislation because the first lady wants it or because he wants it personally to me is a flagrant violation of power.”
Rabon, a Southport veterinarian, said the legislation would do little to improve animal welfare and he pledged to use his power to get a tougher bill that bans animal gas chambers and funds a statewide abuse hotline signed into law in 2015.
The animal welfare advocates recorded the Jan. 16 meeting and sent a transcript to The News & Observer and other media outlets after it became apparent Rabon would stonewall the legislation. That tactic sparked a sharp reaction from Senate leaders who said the move amounted to extortion.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s office responded to the release of the recording by announcing that the puppy mill bill would not be considered in the 2014 short legislative session that starts in May.
Rabon did not return calls seeking comment.
The House approved the measure – House Bill 930 – in May to impose standards of care, such as access to food, water and shelter, on large commercial dog breeders. The Senate refused to consider the measure.
House lawmakers approved it because “they are a bunch of (expletive),” Rabon screamed at the meeting, according to the transcript. “They got political heat. They said we can no longer sit on this. We know the Senate will not pass it because it is a piece of crap, so we will send it to them and they will take the heat. Ladies and gentleman, that is politics 101.”
Rabon said McCrory pressed him to approve the bill. “I will quote your governor, ‘Well, Bill, what in the hell is wrong with a bill that just makes people feel good?’ ” Rabon told the advocates. “I said, ‘Nothing. I’m not up there to make people feel good. I’m up there to do something that is good.’ ”
Addressing the tape Monday, McCrory issued a statement urging state senators not to overreact. “Just because someone uses foolish tactics, there is no reason to stop good legislation which needs to be passed here in North Carolina,” he said. “It was a disgusting tactic, whoever recorded Senator Rabon.”
As for Rabon’s attack on the administration, McCrory responded, “I am also disappointed in the type of dialogue, and my wife and I will stay above that type of dialogue.”
The Senate leaders called the activists’ actions “extreme, divisive and unethical.” It further accused them of using the recording “in an attempt to extort lawmakers into doing exactly what they demanded.”
“We are just going to stop this nonsense before it goes any further,” said Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican.
In an interview, Janie Withers, the president of Paws-Ability in Brunswick County, confirmed she recorded the meeting but she denied it was secret or meant to demand action from lawmakers. “I recorded that meeting so no one could accuse me of putting my slant to what Sen. Rabon said,” Withers said. “If I was Sen. Rabon, I wouldn’t want anybody to hear this,” she said. “He should be ashamed of himself. … He’s a little nothing of a man.”
State Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincolnton Republican who sponsored the bill, defended his legislation and called the Senate’s stance “unfortunate.”
A week ago, days after the meeting, McCrory announced that the measure sat near the top of his agenda for the year.
Chloe Waterman, a legislative coordinator with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said her organization remains hopeful. “We believe strongly that one senator’s remarks shouldn’t dictate what the Senate does with a modest animal protection act,” she said.
In the meeting with Rabon, the frustration of both the animal rights advocates and the senator is apparent..
“That bill is not going to pass,” Rabon said at one point. “OK? Angels in heaven cannot make that bill pass.”
“Voters can change …” Withers said.
“No, they cannot,” Rabon said, cutting her off.
The two-term lawmaker later assured them of his power to stop the bill and pass a tougher one. “Let me blow my own horn,” he said. “I have been there for three years. I’m in the top five. The best shot you folks ever have you are talking to.”
Rabon took particular issue with Ann McCrory’s visit to the House on May 9 to watch the vote, saying she was “in chamber lobbying, which was against all laws, inviting legislators to the mansion to lobby, which is against all law,” the transcript stated.
Withers responded: “If she broke the law, why was she not charged with breaking the law?”
“Maybe she did, maybe she did not,” Rabon said. “What she did was borderline.”