FACT-CHECK: How Hurricane Fran and rotting tobacco could affect a State Senate race

Your Local Election HQ

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A group called the Citizens for a Better NC Senate has placed a television ad critical of Allen Wellons in a race for a seat in the North Carolina Senate.

The Johnston County Democrat, a lawyer and farmer who served three past terms is facing Republican Lisa Barnes, a farmer and current state representative, to represent the state’s 11th Senate district.

READ THE CBS 17 POLITICAL PLEDGE

CBS 17 took a closer look at some of the claims in the ad as part of our political pledge to test the factual accuracy of public communications offered by candidates, political action committees or partisan groups.

THE CLAIM: The ad accuses Wellons of using his political influence in the aftermath of Hurricane Fran in 1996 to obtain a generator to cure the tobacco on his farm while hospitals and nursing homes were left without power.

THE FACTS: Fran made landfall near Cape Fear on Sept. 6, 1996, as one of the worst hurricanes to hit the state. An Associated Press story from Sept. 13 quotes then-Rep. Billy Creech, R-Johnston, as saying he saw two uniformed National Guardsmen operating a generator at Wellons’ farm while people in nursing homes “didn’t need to be sitting in 90-degree heat.”

In that same story, Richard Moore, at the time the state’s secretary of crime control and public safety, said an unknown number of generators went to tobacco farmers but there was “absolutely no political motivation” for dispersing them.

Moore also said in a Smithfield Herald story four days later that no farmers received generators until all hospitals, nursing homes and municipal water and sewage-treatment plants were operational again.

Then-Gov. Jim Hunt, a lawyer and farmer from Wilson County who served four terms, said he wasn’t sure any nursing homes needed generators a day and a half after the hurricane hit, saying “I understand they filled all the requests for human services they got.”

In an interview with CBS 17 News on Friday, Wellons said there was an agreement with the state Department of Agriculture that said generators “would be made available to the farmers after the human needs were met, and that’s what was done.”

In response, the Citizens for a Better NC Senate said in a statement to CBS 17 News that it relies on a story by The News & Record of Greensboro later that year that “reiterates patients were without power while Wellons cured his tobacco.”

The group added that “political figures on both sides (are) engaging in he-said-she-said accusations that the other side is lying.”

But just who are The Citizens for a Better NC Senate?

In a statement responding to a list of questions from CBS 17 News, the group said it “exists to inform voters about the successes of the Republican-led NC Senate and to protect the policies that they’ve put in place that make North Carolina a better place to live, work and learn.”

The committee doesn’t have much of a footprint online, but documents filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections show it was formed in May, its mailing address is in Raleigh and spent $335,920.88 in June.

Keith Tatum, a council member in Yanceyville, is listed as the treasurer and it is a client of Martin & Blaine, The Differentiators — a Raleigh-based political strategy firm comprised of former Republican State Senate Caucus director Jim Blaine and former State Senate press secretary Ray Martin.

That money was spent in support of three State Senate candidates — Amy Galey in District 24, Joyce Kraweic in District 31 and Barnes. 

When asked why it supports those three candidates, the committee said in its statement that while it fully complies with campaign finance laws and disclosure regulations, “we don’t publicly discuss our specific strategic plans.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Trending Stories

Click here for full list of trending stories