Fracking foes target Rabin

Apr. 06, 2014 @ 05:02 AM

In one of the first local political attack ads of the election season, environmental activists have spent about $150,000 to air a commercial labeling three Republican incumbents, including Sen. Ronald Rabin (R-Harnett), as “The Fracking Crew.”

The ad references Rabin, along with fellow senators Chad Barefoot (R-Wake) and Wesley Meredith (R-Cumberland), giving various measures of support to natural gas drilling in North Carolina, which is currently banned. A key part of the process is hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Supporters say drilling will bring jobs to the area and energy independence to the country, but opponents say it can cause environmental disasters including pollution and tainted drinking water.

“The fracking crew voted to put our families at risk,” the ad concludes. “Tell Barefoot, Meredith and Rabin, ‘Stop reckless fracking in North Carolina.’ ”

Rabin said he has indeed heard from many people in the wake of the ominous ad, which is winding down its TV run and was paid for by the North Carolina Environmental Partnership. That group is made up of the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“The responses are mixed,” Rabin said. “Their propaganda will appeal to some folks and will not appeal to others.”

He added, “Anybody who thinks that I would do anything to endanger the water supply, families and things like that just hasn’t met me.”

Mary McLean Asbill, the Southern Environmental Law Center’s senior attorney, disagrees. In a press release, she said Rabin and his fellow legislators have voted to permit “assaults on our basic environmental safeguards,” and that her group wants to put pressure on them.

“When legislators vote to threaten North Carolina’s drinking water, we’re going to make sure folks back home know about it,” Asbill said in the release. “We’re holding legislators accountable so they’ll have to look people in the eye and explain why they voted against clean water.”

The litany of accusations in the ad are all based on versions of bills that never passed the General Assembly, let alone became law. Yet Rabin, Barefoot and Wesley — and dozens of others from both parties who weren’t mentioned in this ad — did vote for those failed bills, so the ad is technically correct.

Rabin said he has done personal research in addition to reviewing research from experts and state officials in his legislative duties, and he believes hydraulic fracturing will be safe. He also said that if he should get reelected, ads like this one won’t affect how he votes — whether he feels pressured or not.

“My opinion can only be changed by facts, and their ads have no facts,” he said. “It’s all based on emotional appeal.”

It’s unclear why only Rabin, Barefoot and Wesley were targeted in this ad, which was also accompanied by mailers sent to some local residents. However, all three senators mentioned in the ad do represent districts which left-leaning research group Public Policy Polling has identified as among the few GOP-held seats that Democrats could win in November.

Rabin said he thinks the ad was politically motivated, but those behind the ads claim they’re motivated solely out of their love for the environment.

“This isn’t about politics,” Luis Martinez, senior lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a press release. “This is about protecting our state’s clean water, clean air and communities.”

As for Rabin, Public Policy Polling hasn’t reviewed his district since late September. But its polling at the time led researchers to conclude, albeit half a year ago, that the first-term senator will have to overcome both his newcomer status and his party’s growing unfavorability.

“[Rabin’s district] doesn’t seem like the kind of place where Democrats should be able to compete,” the Raleigh-based pollsters wrote. “Pat McCrory won the district by 24 points [in 2012] and Mitt Romney took it by 19. But McCrory’s approval is under water now, and Ronald Rabin is both unknown (50 percent of voters have no opinion about him) and unpopular (among those who do have one his approval spread in 20/30). A match up with a generic Democrat comes out tied.”

Rabin will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Harnett County Commissioner Joe Langley and James Clark, a Dunn man who also ran for this seat in 2012, losing in the primary.