The Bill Rabon transcript

Posted by Dan Barkin on January 29, 2014 

Bill Rabon is a state senator from down on the coast who has been in the news because animal rights activists released a transcript of a meeting they had recently with him, and taped. There is some dispute as to whether he knew he was being taped or not.

According to the transcript, Rabon used some strong language in giving his views about the North Carolina House of Representatives, had some pointed things to say about Gov. Pat McCrory and his wife, talked about his influence in Raleigh, and apparently raised his voice a few times.

In a way, it is kind of surprising that Rabon landed in hot water, since he has done very well for himself politically, getting off to a very fast start in Raleigh.

Rabon was a dream candidate for the Republicans. He had a successful career as a veterinarian. He had been active in civic life in his community, serving on the board of the local community college and on other boards. An Eagle Scout, he had been active in the Boy Scouts.

When he prepared to take his place in the Senate in the winter of 2011, we had him as one of a handful of legislators to watch, unusual attention for a newbie. This is what we wrote three years ago this week:

Freshmen make up nearly half of the Senate Republican majority - 13 of 31 senators. That puts Bill Rabon, the Senate leader of Republican freshmen, in a key position to drive policy on behalf of a group that includes several self-made businessmen who may not be so willing to just sit and listen. Rabon is a veterinarian from Southport who runs three animal hospitals. He succeeded in his first run for office, and lobbyists say he is showing a deep knowledge of state government plus a sharp wit.

Less than two years after that, Senate leader Phil Berger announced that Rabon was being appointed co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a fairly big deal.

Pat Gannon, who was then covering Rabon for the Wilmington Star News (and is now working with us as a reporter for The Insider), wrote this at the time:

The Finance Committee oversees the state’s tax system and controls the way state government collects revenue. For Rabon, the appointment is a signal that he has earned the respect and trust of the top Senate leadership.

Pretty heady stuff. Maybe too much, too fast.

In the meeting recently with the animal rights folks, according to the transcript, Rabon said:

I’m going to tell you one more time. Let me back up. Let me blow my own horn. I have been there for three years. I’m in the top five . . . The best shot you folks ever have you are talking to!

I have read through all 22 pages of the meeting transcript. It looks like Rabon was trying to explain how the legislature works, and was trying to be candid to a fault with the animal rights activists he was meeting with. And he was trying to explain his problems with the puppy mill legislation.

But if the transcript is to be believed, he didn’t read the room well, and he went on way too long.

An experienced politician would have been more guarded. With a group you’re not sure about, don’t share your unvarnished insights about the governor, the First Lady and the other chamber.

In fact, by about the bottom of Page 6 of the transcript, I would have wrapped up the meeting, because it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.

“We are on a bad footing here,” Rabon said. “What you guys want is to beat me up to do something that you want. And I’m going to try to give it to you. But you want it done tomorrow.”

It has become clear over the past three years that Bill Rabon is one of the more capable legislators in Raleigh. You don’t build a thriving vet business, get appointed to responsible positions on local boards, and get the keys to the Finance Committee by being a numbskull.

He has no doubt learned one of the lessons that sometimes you learn the hard way, whether you are a politician or a manager. You have to assume that things you say, even if in supposedly private meetings, will find their way outside the room. Some people might describe this as a little paranoia going a long way. I call it being cautious.

It’s good practice to keep your ego and temper in check, stifle the urge to trash talk about people who aren’t in the room, and keep meetings short and on point.

What he wanted to get across to these animal rights activists a couple of weeks ago was that he didn’t think the legislation on puppy mills was well-drafted when it came over from the House and he was committed to doing something good in the future to protect puppies.

That should have been a 15-20 minute meeting and would have been a short and fairly undramatic transcript. Thanks for coming by, folks.

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