This week’s agriculture board should have been a snooze. Instead, it was a doozy. On the agenda were two ceremonial items: Governor Pat McCrory would sign the farm bill and Associate Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby would swear in new board members. And then, the board would delve into a mind-numbing discussion of ag rules, including those on pen-raised quail and garbage-fed swine.
But McCrory opened his remarks with an odd pronouncement:
“A lot of work being done by extremist environmental groups” which, although not naming names, McCrory said, are planning attacks on the state’s agribusinesses.
“I’m concerned about what I’m seeing behind the scenes,” McCrory went on. “I’m looking for input from you [the agricultural board] about from where and why these assaults are coming. We can’t have these types of people putting us out of business.”
NCPW contacted the governor’s press office by phone and email to elicit more information about the identity of the groups and the source of his information. No one from the press office has returned our messages.
McCrory also used the ag board pulpit to assail the Environmental Protection Agency over its new Clean Water Rule. The rule adds and clarifies protections of waterways that have been historically covered under the Clean Water Act: tributaries, wetlands, and waters that connect with oceans and rivers that cross state lines.
“It’s pretty extensive federal government intervention,” McCrory said. “We need to stop or revise it. The EPA is getting more involved in our state’s rivers and streams. It could have major ramifications for the agricultural community.”
However, the EPA is clear that the new rule doesn’t require any new permitting from farmers and retains most of the agricultural exemptions. In fact, many agricultural practices, such as planting, harvesting and moving livestock, have been exempt from the Clean Water Act.
The meeting was odd from the get-go, when Justice Paul Newby swore in three new agriculture board members. Bible in hand, Newby invoked state General Statute 11. Article 1 of the statute defines oaths as “being most solemn appeals to Almighty God, as the omniscient witness of truth and the just and omnipotent avenger of falsehood.”
“This is a reminder that God sees everything,” Newby added. “You can never fool God.”
Assuming that’s true, that means God also saw the $2 million that poured into Newby’s campaign coffers in 2012. A regular on the tea party circuit, Newby received contributions from conservative groups and super PACs, such as the , the NC Judicial Coalition, Justice for All and the Republican State Leadership Committee, which were trying to influence the ostensibly nonpartisan elections.
The RSLC spearheaded the redistricting maps that favored Republicans. These are the same maps that came before the state supreme court — of which, again, Newby is an associate justice — to rule on their constitutionality.
With that as context, consider Newby’s money quote as he cautioned incoming board members about the temptations of public service. “People have long through public office is for personal gain,” Newby said. “But you have put personal self-gain aside. It’s a difficult thing to do.”