2004 Profile in Courage Award recipient Cindy Watson with Caroline Kennedy and Senator Edward M. Kennedy, May 24, 2004.

Background

Shortly after she was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1995, Cindy Watson heard from a group of citizens who complained that waste and stench from area hog farms were causing asthma in children and contaminating water wells with E. coli bacteria. Industrial hog production was her district's biggest business and a huge part of the local economy, but in 1997, Watson co-sponsored legislation to phase out the lagoons that held the waste of 9.3 million hogs, and to place a temporary moratorium on new pork production operations. North Carolina had previously tried to pass environmental regulations aimed at hog industry polluters, but big money from large-scale hog producers had always quashed those efforts. But when a hog factory accidentally spilled 25 million gallons of hog waste into North Carolina's New River, the worst spill in state history, the public rallied behind the need for regulations, and Watson's legislation passed in 1998. Later that year, the state's largest corporate hog producers joined forces to force Watson from public office. As big a business and with as much clout as North Carolina's tobacco industry, the hog industry poured tens of thousands of dollars a week into an intensely negative ad campaign against Watson, and financed a challenger to run against her in the 1998 Republican primary. Although she was the incumbent, Watson lost her party's nomination and was ousted from office. She still lives in Duplin County.