BRUNSWICK COUNTY, NC (WECT) - State Senator Bill Rabon may have another challenger looking to unseat him, after he was caught on tape in a heated conversation with constituents, blasting a puppy mill bill and bashing fellow Republican lawmakers.
The day our story aired with parts of that heated recording, Senate leadership said the bill was dead - blaming the people who leaked the Rabon tape to the media for derailing it.
New Hanover County Representative Rick Catlin sponsored the puppy mill bill. For him, the issue is personal. Catlin's dog, Sophie, was rescued from a Brunswick County puppy mill last year.
Catlin says she had been in a cage for 3 years, and could barely walk. "It was very emotional. And that's one of the reasons I support the puppy mill bill. It's our job to look after animals," he said.
While Catlin's bill to set minimum requirements for dog breeders easily passed the House, it wasn't well received in the Senate. Catlin said Wednesday that he hadn't heard Senator Rabon's comments about the bill that made headlines last week.
On the audio recording, you can hear Rabon call the puppy mill bill "a piece of crap." He also used strong words to describe the governor and fellow Republicans who voted in favor of the bill. "The house, they are a bunch of p*****s," Rabon told a group of constituents who had come to discuss the bill at his office.
Rep. Catlin told us that regardless of what Rabon told those constituents, he wanted to keep things positive and continue to push to get his bill into law. "I've worked very successfully with Senator Rabon on a number of good issues and he knows this subject because he's a veterinarian," Catlin said. "I think we can find a way to work together."
A fellow Brunswick County veterinarian says his experience working with Senator Rabon wasn't so successful. Dr. Ernie Ward was one of the animal rescue advocates who attended that heated meeting with Rabon.
He said was shocked by what happened. "You speak out, you go to meet with your elected official, and they say, oh, you disagree with me, we're going to silence you. And that's exactly what happened in this meeting," Ward said. "Just to say, ‘you spoke out against me, you revealed to the world what I said.' That's good enough reason to kill it? I strongly disagree."
Dr. Ward said he is so upset over Sen. Rabon's treatment of his group, he may challenge him in the next election. "I am seriously considering running because I feel the people in our area don't have a voice with our current Senator. We deserve a Senator who will focus on respecting our teachers, improving our schools, and strengthening our economy, not disrespecting us."
Ward is a Democrat with some name recognition. He is a nationally recognized television personality, who has been on everything from CNN to Animal Planet speaking about animal-related issues.
A full week after the tapes were released, we still can't get Sen. Rabon to go on camera, or even return our phone calls about his efforts to block the puppy mill bill. He has released a statement apologizing, saying his comments were made in the heat of the moment.
The last time Rabon did an on-camera interview with WECT was a year ago, at a time when we interviewed all of our local lawmakers in Raleigh. Since then, Rabon has declined several of our requests for interviews on various legislative topics.
In the Rabon recording, you can hear him ask one of the animal rescue advocates if she is with the media. He then says, "If you are with the press, that ain't allowed."
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