We get all kinds of blather about how The US Capitol and the General Assembly are “the people’s house” populated by “the people’s representatives.” Those terms are missing a few key words. It’s actually “the people with the big bank accounts who write big checks’s house” and “the people with the big bank accounts who write big checks’s representatives.”
Check the campaign reports at the state board of elections and the House and Senate calendars in Raleigh and you can see a direct connection between campaign donations and who introduces what bills.
Folks who get a lot of money from solar goons are there to introduce things that benefit said goons. Elected folks who rake in cash from beer distributors are regularly out front blocking efforts to deregulate craft brewers. And then there are the folks who take a lot of cash from the pork industry. The recent override of the veto of the farm bill was portrayed as standing up for family farmers.
But, thanks to departing Rep. John Blust (R-Greensboro) who echoed a lot of what we’ve been saying, we learned that the bill and the veto override was really more of the same water-carrying for the deep-pocketed set:
The annual farm bill continues to generate impassioned debate in the General Assembly, but Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, appears to have topped his colleagues with a 14-minute tirade Thursday before the bill won final House passage.
[…] “There are several truths need to be told in this body about this bill and about this body,” he said.
The hog farm provision is in response to a $50 million judgment won in April by several Bladen County families against the production division of pork giant Smithfield Foods. It is the first of a couple dozen similar nuisance suits pending in federal court.
Various amendments adopted in recent days prevent anyone who lives more than a half-mile from the source of an alleged nuisance from suing, prohibit lawsuits filed more than a year after the farm begins operation or undergoes “a fundamental change” and bar punitive damages unless the farm operator has been convicted of a crime or civil enforcement action for violations related to the alleged nuisance.
The bulk of the $50 million award in the Smithfield case was punitive damages, although it was later slashed to less than $3 million under an existing state cap on punitive damages.
“This bill is moving like this because we’re taking sides in a dispute,” Blust said. “We know better than the court. We know better than the facts. We know better than the law. We’re going to protect one litigant, and we’re going to say to the other, ‘You don’t matter. You don’t count.’ It’s because the one side has the ear of the powers that run this institution.”
Smithfield Foods’ political action committee has donated to several powerful lawmakers in the past year, including House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate President Pro TemPhil Berger, House Rules Chairman David Lewis, House Majority LeaderJohn Bell, bill sponsor Sen.Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, and Rep.Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin, who shepherded the bill through the House.[…]
Five of those six decide what lives or dies in The General Assembly. Money well spent.
“It is about one giant corporation,” Blust said. “[The bill’s protections are] being sold to the public and to this body like it’s Uncle Henry, Auntie Em, Dorothy, Toto and the three farmhand-type farms. That’s not what it’s about. It doesn’t apply to farms like that.”[…]
This is the kind of garbage the Democrats perpetrated under Jim Black. We’ve come full circle.
[…] Blust noted that farmers packed the gallery of the House on Wednesday during the chamber’s first vote on the bill, which was added to the floor calendar less than two hours earlier. He said it’s unlikely anyone representing hog farm neighbors knew the bill was being voted on.
“We accuse the courts of being biased and wicked and bad and [making] bad decisions. What about the way we operate?” he asked. “Is it right that one side gets to appear and pack the galleries and nobody from the other side gets any notice?
“We callously take away that right [for people to persuade their legislators], and then we criticize courts for being unfair,” he continued. “We sound like me after Carolina loses to Duke or State – it had to have been the referees. Our side lost this lawsuit, so it must have been a bad court. That’s a weak excuse.”
Blust tried and failed three times Wednesday to amend the bill, including striking the section on punitive damages and trying to ensure people now being harmed by hog farms won’t be precluded from suing once the bill becomes law.
During one of those efforts, Bell said Blust was “playing lawyer games.”
“I’m a little taken aback that the politicians are casting stones at the lawyers,” Blust said Thursday, calling bills moving so quickly that the public doesn’t have time to respond and lawmakers themselves don’t even know what they’re voting on “cheap political tricks.”
“What we do here is not a small matter, and people that really don’t want to look at these bills and have the debates, there’s still time till August to go ahead and take your name off the ballot, and your party can replace you. This is our duty,” he said.
“The way things are handled is pertinent to this bill,” he responded. “We’re the people’s house and the people’s legislature, and we ought to do business in a deliberative fashion that befits the trust that’s been bestowed on us by the people. That ought to be an ironclad guarantee that we take seriously at all times.”
Blust said the bill is inviting a legal challenge by depriving hog farm neighbors of their property rights, and he was trying to head that off with his amendments. He said it would be easier to head off lawsuits by requiring hog farms to use existing technology that caps waste lagoons, cutting down on the smell.
Before urging the House to reject the farm bill so the hog farm issue could be studied more thoroughly during the 2019 legislative session, he turned to Churchill for one final reference.
“An iron curtain has descended on this legislature, and it just will not let go. A few people call all the shots, and their will governs, and I know the members cannot afford to go against it,” he said. “I hate that you can make good arguments, right on point, and somebody holds a thumb up or down, and that determines it. That’s a very regrettable situation.”
Here is the video of the farm bill debate. (Blust starts speaking at the 1:54:50 mark of the video.)
It’s a shame he’s leaving. He and the since-departed Chris Millis were principled, articulate voices for conservatism and good government that often got trampled by their colleagues rushing to scoop up lobbyist cash. Hopefully, we’ll see Blust again in public life — in some form or fashion.