The race for state Senate District 11 between Allen Wellons and Lisa Barnes has turned nasty. But Wellons says the attacks on him from a PAC backing Barnes are misleading voters.
Election years are always full of negative advertising, but one North Carolina state Senate candidate says he’s being unfairly targeted by misleading mailers.
Johnston County attorney and farmer Allen Wellons, a Democrat, is running for the crucial District 11 seat that includes part of Johnston County and Nash County in the state Senate, one that could determine the balance of power in the legislature. He’s facing current state representative and farmer Lisa Barnes of Rocky Mount.
The race has already been an abrasive one, but Wellons — a former state lawmaker — says a series of mailers from a group supporting Barnes is circulating a debunked story about him using his political pull to commandeer a state-owned generator for his tobacco farm in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Fran in 1996. Public records show Wellons was not serving on the state Senate until January 3, 1997, four months after Hurricane Fran made landfall in NC.
And a second mailer depicts Wellons in an orange prison jumpsuit, noting he was once arrested for trespassing at a government building. The advertising neglects to mention that the charges were dismissed and the arrest was part of Rev. William Barber II’s Moral Monday protest movement, which centered on the GOP-controlled state legislature’s votes to block Medicaid expansion and cut public education funding.
The mailers were distributed by the Citizens for a Better NC Senate PAC, which, as of their July campaign finance report, had spent more than $335,000 this year on several key state legislative races, including the Wellons-Barnes race in District 11. The Differentiators LLC, the company behind Citizens for a Better NC Senate, did not return requests for comment.
Mailers have also targeted Barnes, although they’ve chiefly focused on her alignment with a GOP majority that has opposed Medicaid expansion, a mostly federally-funded boost for health insurance for low-income North Carolinians.
Barnes did not respond to a request for an interview, but Wellons talked to Cardinal & Pine about their race and the advertising.
C&P: What were some of the immediate needs after Hurricane Fran and how were they being met?
Wellons: Fran was a devastating hurricane and when it came, it tore down a lot of trees, especially out in the countryside. So we were out of electricity in the towns for about two days. But in the rural areas, we were out for almost a week.
This was the end of tobacco season, and for the farmers that lost the remainder of their crops that were in the field, what they had left in tobacco was in their barns. Tobacco can only stay in barns without electricity for about three days. After the third day following Fran, the National Guard found out that all the human services had been met.
I called Raleigh and encouraged them to release the backup generators so they could be used by the farmers to save their crop. There were a number of farmers that got the generators and were very grateful that it saved their crop and really saved their year.
One of the farmers was farming on land owned by my family. I did not know they were going to get a generator, but they did and it saved their crop.
C&P: Let’s talk about the mailer that claims you were arrested for trespassing at a government building. What was that about?
Wellons: I went to Raleigh and went to the legislature and protested. Legislators failure to expand Medicaid was a topic of one of the first Moral Mondays with Reverend William Barber and I think there were 150 North Carolinians that were arrested that time.
I wanted to take a stand as a citizen, and say, this is wrong. We’re denying people in North Carolina health care and it’s all been paid for by our tax dollars. So we went up to the legislature, and I was able to talk to the crowd. And then we walked into the building and walked around, and it was a Monday night, so the legislature was not in session. But we did get their attention.
[The police] asked us to leave [and when we didn’t] we were arrested and taken down and booked and then released. It was one of the best things that I’ve done as a private citizen to stand up for the rights of North Carolinians. And that’s something I’ve always prided myself on doing.