#ncga: The Jones Street oligarchy

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. 

MORE:

[…] Likewise, the North Carolina Pork Council PAC has donated to all six, as well as to other lawmakers, in the past year.

“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.

MORE:

[…] 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.

Reps.John Szoka, R-Cumberland, andJeff Collins, R-Nash, interrupted Blust during his comments, saying that he was airing grievances instead of debating the bill.

“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. 

4 comments for “#ncga: The Jones Street oligarchy

  1. GUWonder
    July 2, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    Szoka? He is nothing but a well paid prostitute for corrupt Big Solar. With Republicans like that, who needs Democrats?

  2. Larry G. Pittman
    July 3, 2018 at 12:19 am

    None of that money has ever come my way. I voted for the Farm Act, and for the override, because I’m looking beyond the Smithfield case, and wanting to protect the small farmers who I believe will be next if something isn’t done to protect their property rights from unfounded, frivolous lawsuits. It didn’t hurt, either, that Rep. Ridell got the raw milk provision added to it. Glen Bradley and I tried to get that done when he was in office. I know there will be an effort to remove it next year, but I had to stand up for it as a matter of personal freedom, and will fight the effort to get rid of it if I am still there. The main thing, though, is that these lawsuits are just one more unscrupulous tactic being applied to the widespread effort to run farmers off of their land. I saw Section 10 of the Farm Act as a way to fight that.

  3. Myron Smith
    July 3, 2018 at 11:06 pm

    Neighbors near Hog farms should be allowed to take Smithfield and Hog Farmers to court and pay a fee and correct this Hog Waste Issue. There are methods to correct and lessen the damage. Scientist have studied and made Recommendations. But Smithfield and Hog Farmers refuses to follow!

  4. Raphael
    July 4, 2018 at 8:30 am

    I have a lot of respect for Larry Pittman but I think he and some other conservatives got sold a bill of goods on this one.

    The law of nuisance has been around since medieval times and came over to the US with English Common Law. It is a balancing test for property rights where one property owner cannot impose on his neighbors. What the legislature has done is put their thumb on the scales in favor of certain property owners. This is rank special interest legislation.

    Smithfield Foods is foreign owned if memory serves (China, I think) and many of the hog production facilities are absentee owned as well. I do not call them “farms” because they are so much more concentrated than traditional hog farms they are more factory facilities.

    There was quite a furor over hog “farms” in the 1990s and here in the east an incumbent GOP establishment State Rep, Zeno Edwards, lost his primary to a conservative challenger at least partly because the conservative challenger embraced the opponents of the hog facilities and the incumbent was pro-hog.

    Also in the 1990s in Beaufort County, public opposition to large scale ho production facilities in their neighborhoods was so strong that when word got out that such a facility was on the verge of being built, dozens of citizens from the area showed up, many carrying hunting rifles or shotguns, and occupied the highway shoulder adjacent to the property and refused to let the construction crew onto it. They called the sheriff who sent some deputies, but he told the hog facility people that the demonstration was peaceful and he was not going to do anything about it.. That citizen protest stayed put until the hog people gave up and that hog facility never got built. There was strong opposition to such hog facilities among the rural population, and the sheriff did not want to put himself on the wrong side of that issue.

    This bill is a horrible precedent for other special interests. Nuisance lawsuits have been brought in other states against wind and solar “farms”. Will some in our legislature try to protect this out of state special interest from local citizens next?

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