A letter in a Greensboro newspaper praises Trudy Wade for her commitment to building a consensus that led to a public-private partnership to improve children’s health. It was 1996, and Wade was running as a Democrat in what would be an unsuccessful campaign for Guilford County commissioner.
Jump to the present. Wade is a Republican state senator with growing influence who is being criticized in the same newspaper for a plan that ran over the Greensboro City Council to enact new voting districts that would weed out some members. The city and six residents are suing over the plan, claiming it is “tainted with bad faith.”
Wade’s political career has seen a transformation not only from Republican to Democrat and back to Republican, but from a local politician with limited pull to a statewide figure with considerable sway over the politics of her hometown. Critics say she’s anything but a consensus-builder these days, but Wade says it is the media that has changed, not the way she approaches issues.
“I think I’m still a consensus-builder,” she said in an interview last week. “I think the media has changed over the years. In my opinion, they tend to try to draw a line down the middle and lump (people) on one side or the other.”
Wade says constituents asked her to consider changing Greensboro districts, but a common theory among her critics is that she’s taking revenge on political opponents.
The Rev. Cardes Brown, who leads a Greensboro church and worked with Wade on a social services board years ago, said the redistricting plan is “retaliation” and comes from Wade “being upset with some of the present council folks and others.”
Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Guilford County Democrat who fought the redistricting plan, said Wade, as head of the local delegation, didn’t take the usual steps to get local bills filed that the city wanted.
“It’s been a vindictive kind of approach to Greensboro,” Robinson said.
Wade said speculation about a revenge motive is far from true.
“Absolutely not,” she said. “No. Let me be clear about that.”
Wade said she didn’t know until after legislative staff drew maps for her bill that five incumbents live within the boundaries of one new district.
“It was a surprise, but then I realized geographically they had a whole lot of people in the same area and that all the other parts of the city didn’t have equal representation,” she said.
This session is not all about redistricting for Wade. Her packed schedule is one of the consequences of being co-chairwoman of the Agriculture/Environment and Natural Resources committee. Senate colleagues seek quick meetings and lobbyists stack up outside her office or try to catch her on the run between her appointments.
She commutes from Greensboro to Raleigh each day when the Senate is in session and fits her veterinary practice around her legislative schedule. After her days in Raleigh, she checks in at night on her business. Her townhouse, which she shares with her two female dachshunds Reagan and Palin, is in a gated community in Greensboro. It is about 10 minutes from Jamestown Veterinary Hospital, which she owns, and is a few minutes from her parents’ home.
Now in her second Senate term, Wade, who turned 64 on Saturday, has decades of community and political involvement in Guilford.
She was a county commissioner from 2000 to 2005 and a member of the Greensboro City Council from 2007 to 2012. In 2010, the year before legislative district maps were redrawn, she ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate against Robinson and an independent candidate. The new district Wade now runs in favors Republican candidates.
Her political background and her tenure on the local health board made Wade a good fit for the committee she now helps lead, said Senate leader Phil Berger, an Eden Republican.
Wade’s talent “is understanding fairly complicated issues and being a pretty quick study,” he said.
Her influence now is being felt statewide. Her chairmanship gave her the responsibility for shepherding through the Senate a controversial bill reducing environmental regulations. She had a provision inserted into the budget that would allow voters to kill special tax districts that fund downtown development. Four coastal towns use the money raised in their districts to counter beach erosion. Wade said she wanted residents of Greensboro historic districts where taxes are used to pay for special enhancements to be able to end them.
Wade supports repeal of a fee on electronics manufacturers that helps pay for local programs that recycle televisions and computers.
“She is not a single-issue person,” said Robbie Perkins, a former Greensboro mayor who served with Wade on the City Council. “She is a pro-business advocate in the sense that she believes business is better to be left alone.”
Perkins, a Republican, called Wade a “maverick” keen on questioning the status quo.
“If you go into a discussion with Trudy, you better know what you’re talking about because she does,” he said. Perkins said he and Wade “fought like cats and dogs a lot,” but also worked together. “There were several major policy issues where she was my first telephone call.”
Wade brought that willingness to work hard to Raleigh, said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Mocksville Republican.
“That’s what I like about Trudy – she digs down into it, finds out the reasons for and against something,” said Brock, who shares chairmanship duties with Wade. “She does her homework and does her research.”
That’s what I like about Trudy – she digs down into it. ... She does her homework and does her research.
State Sen. Andrew Brock, a Mocksville Republican
It helps, Brock said, to have veterinarians in the Senate to turn to on issues involving animals such as the “puppy mill bill,” backed by Gov. Pat McCrory, that seeks to set animal-care standards for commercial dog breeders. The state House has passed the bill twice, but the Senate hasn’t take it up. Hunting groups, the American Kennel Club and others oppose the bill, saying it violates breeders’ property rights.
Wade offered an option for a hotline for people to report underground breeders, Brock said.
The animal welfare hotline, which would be run out of the state attorney general’s office, is in the massive regulatory bill Wade guided through the Senate earlier this month. The state already has laws regarding animal welfare, Wade said, and people are being charged under them.
In her first term, the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research survey ranked Wade the 31st most effective member of the Senate. She was fourth among Republicans serving their first Senate terms.
The North Carolina FreeEnterprise Foundation gave Wade a 78.24 rating in its 2013 report, the most recent available. On a scale of 100, ratings above 70 “demonstrate consistent support of free enterprise principles,” according to the report.
“She as a freshman demonstrated a commitment to issues that were important to businesses,” said Joe Stewart, foundation executive director.
Supreme Court fight
Wade started out as a Republican but became a Democrat in the early 1990s. “I think I had a small disagreement with the Republican Party,” she said.
Guilford Republicans held a celebratory press conference when Wade switched back to the GOP in 1997.
“No one party meets your goals all the time,” she said. “There’s not any one party that meets all of anyone’s goals.”
Asked to recount highlights of her time in local government, she doesn’t recall anything remarkable. She remembers focusing on constituent needs and the beginning of construction of a park in her district.
Her career on the Guilford commissioners board is most remembered by the way it ended. She appeared to win a narrow victory against a Democratic challenger until provisional votes were counted. The provisional votes put Democrat John Parks in the lead.
Wade fought to have provisional ballots thrown out, and took her case to the state Supreme Court – twice. Wade stayed on the commission for a year and a half after the election.
Parks said he missed at least one county budget vote waiting to take his seat on the board.
“It was disappointing that it turned out like it did,” he said.
Her time on the City Council was notable for the push to have a landfill located in a mostly African-American community reopened for household trash.
Rather than spending money to have garbage hauled to another county, Wade said, the city could actually get money back from a solid-waste company for community improvements.
“It would have brought in revenue, which we had discussed giving to the more distressed areas in Greensboro,” she said.
The move triggered protests, charges of environmental racism and court action.
Goldie Wells’ tenure on the City Council overlapped with Wade’s. After Wells left the council, she founded Citizens for Economic and Environmental Justice to fight the landfill reopening.
Wells said she and Wade were far apart politically but were cordial and exchanged pleasantries as council colleagues.
“She has a personality that is hard to really ... How can I describe her?” Wells said.
Residents protested reopening a landfill they considered a neighborhood blight. Residents and local organizations, including the citizens group, ended up suing the city. A judge put a stop to the effort.
Wells doesn’t remember Wade engaging in any debate over the idea.
“She never would say anything,” Wells said. “She was just determined that they were going to do it.”
“You just gather that she’s a really complicated personality,” she said. “Stubbornness mixed with meanness and the will to conquer in spite of all.”
She’s a really complicated personality. Stubbornness mixed with meanness and the will to conquer in spite of all.
Goldie Wells, former Greensboro City Council member
Wade said this week that anyone who thinks that doesn’t really know her.
“I consider myself a very compassionate person – I wouldn’t be a veterinarian if I wasn’t,” she said. “I will stand up for my constituents. And I think I’m a very passionate person. If I think it’s the right thing and it’s what my constituents want, I’ll be very passionate and stand up for them.”
Wade grew up in Guilford County, the middle of three daughters. She was a child who loved animals and remembers having five dogs, three horses, and as many as 50 guinea pigs growing up.
“I used to bring home any stray there was – chickens, dogs, cats, whatever was out there,” she said.
Her father, who owned an auto trim shop, encouraged her to be a veterinarian.
She left college after one year to work for two years at an animal hospital. She returned to school and received a biology degree from Greensboro College. She went to vet school at Tuskegee University, a historically black private school in Alabama.
Wade said she loved going to Tuskegee and didn’t think of herself as a minority at the school, which enrolled students from around the world.
“In my class I had people from Africa, South America, from India, from all over,” she said. “You’re in a melting pot of everyone. The studies were so rigorous, you really didn’t have time to be worrying about race or nationality. We were all students in the same class trying to make it through.”
Wade is a science fiction fan who self-published a novel, “The Worlds We Know,” in 2012 after about five years of writing and editing. The second installment of a planned trilogy is in the works.
Wade brushed aside a question about political ambitions, saying she was happy to be in the Senate.
The fracas over the redistricting plan has stimulated talk of attempts to defeat Wade in 2016. It would likely be a tough task. Most of the registered voters in Wade’s district live outside the Greensboro city limits, so many of those she has angered won’t see her name on their ballots.
She raised nearly $200,000 for last year’s election, when she ran unopposed. About $155,000 came from individuals. She received about $40,000 in donations from PACs and political party committees.
Wade said calculation of re-election chances doesn’t factor into her Senate positions.
“I try to do what I think my constituents would like me to do,” she said. “I don’t base my legislation on whether I’m going to be re-elected again.”
What she’s doing
North Carolina state Sen. Trudy Wade in her second term in the legislature is co-chair of two committees, vice chair of another and a member of eight more:
▪ Co-chairwoman of Agriculture/Environment/Natural Resources
▪ Co-chairwoman of Appropriations on Natural and Economic Resources
▪ Member, Appropriations/Base Budget
▪ Member, Education/Higher Education
▪ Member, Finance
▪ Member, Health Care
▪ Member, Information Technology
▪ Member, Judiciary I
▪ Member, Rules and Operations of the Senate
▪ Member, Select Committee on Nominations
▪ Vice chairwoman, State and Local Government
To reach her office, call 919-733-5856 or email her at trudy.Wade@ncleg.net