Sen. Rabon embarrasses himself with puppy mill rant

January 28, 2014 

Well, it has always been said that in politics, it’s sometimes the little things that cause the biggest trouble. A member of the N.C. Senate may now testify to that truth.

Republican State Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport is only a two-termer, but the GOP’s short bench has made it possible for some ill-equipped members to move up the ladder quickly.

Rabon, for example, is chairman of the powerful Finance Committee in his chamber. And perhaps it was both his relative inexperience and quick ascension that got the best of him in a meeting earlier this month with animal welfare advocates and the Brunswick County sheriff.

Those advocates gave to the media a recording of the Jan. 16 meeting that shows Rabon to be short-tempered, profane and boastful of his power in the Senate. He used that power to help kill off a bill to more closely regulate large dog breeders. It was called the puppy mill bill and was endorsed by no less than first lady Ann McCrory, taking a rare public stance. Gov. Pat McCrory joined her in supporting the bill, which passed the House last session but stalled mysteriously in the Senate.

Transcripts of the recording show that in a relatively short period, Rabon managed to roughly dismiss a governor of his own party, the entire state House and all the advocates of the bill and in the process to proudly tell the group how powerful he is.

Several curious points stand out. First, Gov. McCrory expressed distress that the tape was released, calling it a “disgusting tactic.” Isn’t the governor more upset about the insulting tone directed at him and his wife? The senator’s comments, after all, make it clear that GOP legislators have no respect for the governor, even when it comes to puppies. Where’s the outrage? And what is disgusting about recording a meeting between an elected official and a group of people seeking legislation?

Second, Sen. Phil Berger – Senate leader and president pro tem – also failed to step up here. He appoints committee chairs and thinks it’s OK for one of them to dismiss the House with a crude, one-word term deemed obscene by some?

Rabon did apologize on Tuesday for his comments. But he cannot withdraw his remarks or undo the damage he has done. That he thought the meeting was “off the record” makes no difference. He is a public official, and he should have known better.

Third, the tension between the legislative chambers is now out in the open and points again to how silly things become big, embarrassing issues with too many inexperienced people in charge.

Rabon wasn’t even content in this meeting to let his influence and position speak for themselves. At one point, he says, “Let me blow my own horn. I have been there for three years. I’m in the top five.”

Do Gov. McCrory and GOP legislative leaders really intend to just pretend this never happened or to blame it on the people who released the recording?

If Berger is a true leader, he obviously has to discipline Rabon with the removal of his chairmanship. McCrory has an opportunity to assert himself, to demand and earn the respect a governor should have through forceful leadership and defining a clear set of goals. That was the guiding principle of former four-term Gov. Jim Hunt, whom McCrory has cited as a mentor and adviser.

There must be mutual respect among branches of government, and that’s now lacking in the Republican Party. If it were just about party, that would be one thing. But this is about dealing with the crucial issues facing North Carolina. If this group can’t agree on a puppy mill bill or at least debate their differences with reason and respect, should they be trusted with protecting the state’s resources, caring for its needy and setting the future of public education? Right now, Republicans aren’t offering much evidence they’re up to the task.

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