NEWS: Lauch Faircloth Dies at 95; Senator Targeted D.C. Home Rule in Crisis
Lauch Faircloth, a North Carolina hog farmer who as a one-term Republican United States senator was instrumental in stripping the District of Columbia and Mayor Marion Barry of all authority to deal with an overwhelming financial crisis in 1997, died on Thursday at his home in Clinton, N.C. He was 95.
His daughter Anne Faircloth confirmed the death.
His name was Duncan McLauchlin Faircloth, but he went by Lauch, short for his Scottish middle name (pronounced Lock). A cotton farmer who expanded into car franchises and hogs on an industrial scale, he dabbled in Democratic politics for 40 years and, through his support for successive North Carolina governors, was named to lead the state’s Highway Commission and its Commerce Department.
In 1992, having switched to the Republicans and won the support of his state’s conservative senior senator, Jesse Helms, Mr. Faircloth defeated an old Democratic ally, Senator Terry Sanford, and went to Washington for six years (1993-99) with an agenda to cut taxes, balance the federal budget and reduce the size of government, particularly its welfare assistance programs.
With a seat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mr. Faircloth helped increase his state’s share of federal funds for agriculture, business, banking and technology. He voted against abortion and gay rights and pushed for strong work requirements for welfare recipients and for rules designed to discourage teenage pregnancy.
But it was as a member and later as chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia that Mr. Faircloth made national headlines on a collision course with Mr. Barry, a former leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who had been a popular elected official in Washington, in various capacities, since the establishment of limited home rule in the capital in 1973.
During Mr. Barry’s early mayoral terms, crime rates and municipal finances were relatively stable. But federally imposed budget limitations, tax losses caused by the flight of middle-class homeowners, a recession, a crack cocaine epidemic and poor municipal management combined by the early 1990s to create soaring municipal deficits.
Mr. Barry himself became addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs and in 1990 was arrested in a sting. He served six months in prison for possession of cocaine. In a political comeback, he won a discontinuous fourth four-year term as mayor. But taking office in early 1995, he immediately faced a deficit that had ballooned to $772 million. With its bonds rated junk, the city was unable to pay its bills.
The mayor admitted that the city government was “unworkable” and asked Congress to take over some city functions. Instead, with Mr. Faircloth as point man, a new Republican congressional majority put some city operations into receivership and created a financial control board to take over day-to-day spending and financial planning, with the power to overrule the mayor.
Over the next two years, Mr. Faircloth granted the city some concessions: more money than requested for public schools and repairs to decaying buildings. But Mr. Barry and the control board battled constantly over policy and budgetary issues.
A settlement was reached in 1997, when the Clinton administration and Senator Faircloth agreed to rescue the city but stripped Mr. Barry of power over most city agencies, handing it to the control board. The mayor, who retained authority over parks and recreation, libraries and tourism, called the arrangement “a rape of democracy.”
Responding to the mayor’s harsh words in an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Faircloth insisted that the D.C. government desperately needed management reforms. “It was glaringly evident the city was spiraling into a catastrophic state,” he said.
He dismissed Mr. Barry’s criticism. “I’ve heard so many meaningless statements from Marion Barry that one more doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s airy persiflage.”
The financial control board continued to run Washington’s finances until September 2001, when the city achieved its fourth consecutive balanced budget. By then, both Mayor Barry and Senator Faircloth were gone. In 1998, the mayor did not run for a fifth term (he died in 2014 at 78), and Mr. Faircloth lost his bid for re-election to John Edwards, the North Carolina trial lawyer who became a Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 2004 and a presidential candidate in 2008 before destroying his political career with an extramarital affair.
“Goodbye, Faircloth,” Mr. Barry told a crowd on election night.
“Sen. Faircloth: The Man D.C. Loved to Hate,” ran a headline in The Washington Post. “It’s an image much favored by the city’s political class: Faircloth as Wicked Witch, the white North Carolina hog farmer riding his pork rind over Washington and demanding, ‘Surrender Barry,’” The Post wrote.
But Mr. Barry “had spent two years driving the control board batty, pledging cooperation even as he strived to subvert it,” the newspaper said. “It was in-house guerrilla warfare, and Faircloth crushed it like a bug.”
Mr. Faircloth was born on Jan. 14, 1928, in Sampson County, N.C., near Roseboro, in the southeast part of the state. He was the youngest of four sons of James and Mary (Holt) Faircloth. His father owned a 2,500-acre cotton farm. Lauch’s brothers, James Jr., William and Haywood, served in World War II.
Lauch graduated from Roseboro High School after the war but dropped out of High Point College after three months when his father suffered a debilitating stroke. He worked the family farm, which he inherited after his father’s death. (His older brothers had declined a share, preferring not to go back into farming.)
An astute businessman, Mr. Faircloth bought farm and timber land and established a concrete business, automobile franchises and a construction company. But hog farming was highly profitable, and he became one of the state’s most powerful agribusiness owners, with his own meatpacking operations for 140,000 hogs annually.
Mr. Faircloth entered Democratic politics in the 1950s. He was drafted by the Army in 1954 but won a hardship discharge a year later with the help of United States Senator W. Kerr Scott, who hired him as a driver and adviser. An early supporter of Terry Sanford’s successful 1960 run for governor, Mr. Faircloth was named to the state Highway Commission and was its chairman from 1969 to 1972.
His first marriage ended in divorce. His marriage in 1967 to Nancy Ann Bryan also ended in divorce, in 1986. In addition to his daughter, from his second marriage, he is survived by two grandchildren.
Another patron, Gov. James B. Hunt, named Mr. Faircloth the state’s secretary of commerce, a post he held from 1977 to 1983. Mr. Faircloth lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for governor in 1984. After 40 years as a Democrat, he switched to the Republican Party in 1991 and won his Senate seat a year later.
When he entered the Senate in 1993, Mr. Faircloth was said to be the wealthiest member of his state’s congressional delegation, with a net worth estimated at $22 million. After leaving the Senate in 1999, he returned to his home in Clinton and resumed his business interests.