Under the Dome

Rabon's puppy mill remarks spur a campaign challenge

A leading state senator’s bombastic remarks about a “puppy mill” bill is fueling a new campaign rival.

Democrat Ernie Ward said Thursday he would mount a challenge to unseat Republican Sen. Bill Rabon and credits a recent meeting about legislation to crack down on large commercial dog breeders as the impetus.

“The whole interaction around HB930 really catalyzed that I really needed to stand up now,” said Ward, a veterinarian who lives in Ocean Isle Beach.

Rabon, who is also a veterinarian, drew controversy in January after a transcript and recording of a meeting with his constituents showed him using crude language to deride fellow lawmakers and make accusations that lobbying for the bill by Gov. Pat McCrory and the first lady was a “flagrant violation of power.”

The Southport lawmaker and finance committee co-chairman later apologized but N.C. Senate leaders declared the legislation dead after the recording was sent to media outlets.

Ward attended the meeting. “The exposure to this side of the political system motivated me to question how I wanted it to be,” Ward said in an interview. “I just didn't think the people in my district were being represented fairly or sympathetically.”

The puppy mill legislation is sure to play a role in his campaign, Ward says, but he is also focused on education and the economy. “Animal welfare is something that is imp to me on a deeply personal and professional level but on (another) level it is about education and jobs,” he said.

Ward plans to file candidacy papers Friday and host a campaign kickoff in the district Saturday.

To reach a face off with Rabon, Ward must first contend with retired Marine Danny Hefner in the May 6 Democratic primary. Hefner lost his 2012 bid to unseat Rabon by a wide margin. Senate District 8 – which covers Bladen, Brunswick, Pender and part of New Hanover counties –leans Republican, according the N.C. Free Enterprise Foundation.