Acceptance Speech

Caroline Kennedy, Senator Kennedy, members of the Selection Committee, Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, family and friends.

This is an exciting time for me.

I stand in awe that I am a participant in the events celebrating the life of President John F. Kennedy. I stand in awe when I consider the roundabout journey that has led me to this place. I stand in awe when I consider that a relatively insignificant citizen legislator from Duplin County North Caroline could even be nominated for this prestigious award.

I am deeply moved in my spirit. I am humbled to be listed among the recipients of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. Please accept my sincere gratitude for this recognition. I thank you.

When I sought election to the NC House of Representatives my first objective was to help establish a true two party system in Duplin County as well in the entire state to remove regulations from the marketplace and give tax relief to corporations. With agricultural expansion leading the way, I was determined to be the champion of economic growth, to be the darling of big business.

But as Paul Harvey would say, "This is the rest of the story."

Little did I realize that a meeting with the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry would forever change my outlook on the benefits of big business and economic growth. ARSI members are citizens who simply want a good quality of life sustained by economic growth at a rate that does not inflict irreparable harm to the environment.

At that meeting I was confronted with the reality that I had not been listening to the people. Sure, I wanted good things for my district. But I had been wined and dined by the advocates of big business, and not paying attention to the pleas of the ordinary citizens. I learned that there was more to big business than the economic benefit. I learned that expansion of the hog-farming industry, without waste regulation, would have a devastating impact on the environment and the health of our citizens.

Faced with the realization that good government was for the people and by the people, I had a dramatic change of heart. A change that motivated me to resolve that my only special interest group from that time for would be all of the people in my district.

By listening to ordinary citizens I discovered that their real needs had long been ignored in preference of the special interest lobbies.

My new agenda was not politically correct with my big business supporters. I was told by some of my former supporters that they would do whatever was necessary to assure my defeat at the next election.

Undaunted by this challenge, boasting a campaign treasury of less that $50,000 I was determined more than ever to support the will of the people.

Knowledge is power. In order to best represent my constituents I knew that I had to have a thorough understanding of the issues. Through information provided to me by the people and acquired through my on site visits to homes, hog houses, by wading through polluted streams and wetlands, by flying over damaged lagoons, visiting innovative waste treatment facilities, reading countless reports about the swine industry, attending agriculture shows designed for the swine industry, talking with integrators and observing their best management practices, seeing the evaluation and testing of odor control processes, having open discussion with experts specializing in environmental management on the federal and state levels, and having hundreds of conversations with citizens that had been negatively impacted, I put together the pieces of a puzzle concerning the expansion of the swine industry and its consequential environmental impact that was more than "hearsay" 'cause I've been there…done that. No one could say that I was speaking only from emotions, I experienced the reality.

Although this is not the proper arena to discuss the details of the delicate subject of animal waste, I feel compelled that you understand why the swine industry was so opposed to my re-election, an action that precipitated this Profile in Courage Award.

At the time I was in office, North Carolina was ranked number one in turkey production, second in swine production and third in chicken production in the United States. The economic impact to our area is beyond compare.

North Carolina's people population is eight million whereas the animal and poultry population is over 100 million. Duplin and Sampson counties located in the Coastal Plains, in the heart of my district, have almost half of these animals.

Can you comprehend what it is like to have more than six million hogs in just two counties?

North Carolina maintains beautiful wildflowers along various highways in the state. The brilliant reds of the Poppies…the innocent white of the Shasta Daisies…the rich golden hues of the Black Eyed Susan's that border Interstate 40 through Duplin and Sampson counties are wonderful sights to behold…but what often takes your breath away is not the beauty; rather it is the putrid stench of hog waste being sprayed throughout the area.

There is a Native American proverb attributed to the Sioux Nation "A frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives."

Even a frog understands the negative environmental impact of this concentrated animal and poultry population.

This is a quote from a five part series by a North Carolina paper The News and Observer in 1994:
"Imagine a city as big as New York suddenly grafted onto North Carolina's Coastal Plain. Double it in size. Now imagine that this city has no sewage treatment plants. All of the waste from five million people is simply flushed into open pits and sprayed onto fields. Turn those humans into hogs and you don't have to imagine at all it's already here."

The waste disposal of the huge swine industry is staggering.

University Studies warned that Duplin County was saturated with all of the nutrients from the hog waste that could be effectively used, yet the swine industry ignored the warning. Protected by tax regulation, the swine industry continued expanding and spraying.

The swine industry, unlike the frog, was metaphorically "drinking up the pond in which it lived."

I co-sponsored a swine regulatory bill that would ultimately be ratified. I felt that my district could not take any more expansion from this industry if cesspools continued to provide their basic waste treatment practice. In the original bill my amendment called for a one-year moratorium on expansion and construction of new hog facilities. The moratorium remains in effect.

As a consequence to this legislation the states largest corporate hog farmers joined forces and created Farmers for Fairness to oppose my re-election. From June 1996 to May 1997, this group spent $1.4 million on an advertising campaign to smear me. Their efforts to defeat me were successful, I lost by less than twenty votes.

I did not travel the roundabout journey to this place alone…individuals from all walks of life joined my quest…some of those very special people are here today.

John Gurley, a campaign warrior who stood shoulder to shoulder with me in my successful challenge to the Board of Education. He helped discover that the dead had voted, lists of voters had changed on certain election hard drives, and some voters managed to vote twice. He helped provide information that helped the State Board of Election decided that Farmers for Fairness was indeed a lobby group rather than a PAC.

Don Webb, Don is President ARSI, the Alliance for a Responsible Swine Industry. Don taught me that any mention of "hog feces and urine" would usually cut right to the heart of any presentation or conversation…no need to use other words when describing problems associated with hog waste.

Tom Mattison, New River keeper. Tom experienced the largest hog waste spill, 25 million gallons, when he was the Keeper of the New River. Tom and I traveled together throughout the Southeast educating citizens groups and state legislators about the negative environmental problems associated with hog waste cesspools.

Kenneth and Virginia Maxwell, the best grass roots supporters that anyone could have, and my very dear friends.

My son Tripp Watson, a recent graduate of Vermont Law School, one of the premier environmental law schools in the area. Tripp is tough…he chose to practice law in Duplin County…with a name like Watson you can only imagine the challenges he faces daily. I respect his advice.

Please understand that I never possessed a vendetta against any swine integrator, individual or corporation. I am not against swine production, it has provided fantastic economic benefit to North Carolina.

I possess no credentials from academia nor speak for any special interest group. I espouse no agenda in my message other than clean air and clean water.

I am no "tree hugger," I am certainly no zealot for a cause; I am simply "my kid's mom" who loves mother earth and made a decision to do the right thing to protect her.

This Profile in Courage Award that I humbly accept validates that I made the right decision.

Remarks delivered by former North Carolina State Representative Cindy Watson at the Profile in Courage Award Ceremony, May 24, 2004.