Former US Sen. Lauch Faircloth of North Carolina died Thursday at home in Clinton, North Carolina. A former Democrat-turned-Republican, Faircloth was a prominent figure in Tar Heel politics for more than half a century.

Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-NC

“Senator Lauch Faircloth was a dedicated public servant and statesman who was the embodiment of Sampson County values,” said Sen. Thom Tillis. R-NC, in a statement on Thursday. “Both Republicans and Democrats came to appreciate him as one of the most skilled political operators North Carolina has ever seen, and he also possessed the ability to make anyone laugh with his sharp sense of humor. He was a principled, commonsense conservative who played an instrumental role in passing the most consequential welfare reform in our nation’s history.”

In 1977, Faircloth was named North Carolina’s Commerce secretary by former Gov. Jim Hunt and served in that role until 1985. He entered the race for governor in 1984, but was defeated in the Democratic primary. However, he remained an influential force in the state Democratic Party until years later, in 1990, when he switched to Republican. Faircloth ran for US Senate with the support of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-NC. Faircloth won that Senate race, beating his former political ally Terry Sanford.

Part of his platform was promotion of the agriculture industry, lower taxes, and a balanced federal budget. He also ran campaign ads calling to institute work requirements for welfare benefits.

“I’m for workfare, not welfare,” Faircloth said in that race. He pointed to the federal welfare program as an example of government waste from “tax-and-spend liberals.”

In the US Senate, Faircloth became chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the District of Columbia and led the federal government’s move to put the city in receivership when DC fell into debt following the arrest and drug addiction problems of then-Mayor Marion Barry. The committee appointed a control board to take over the day-to-day financial operations of the city of Washington, DC. Barry led a vocal opposition to Faircloth.

“I’ve heard so many meaningless statements from Marion Barry that one more doesn’t matter,” Faircloth said in 1997. “It’s airy persiflage.”

Senators Lauch Faircloth, Bob Dole, Jesse Helms, and Strom Thurmond show their enthusiasm for the Carolinas’ new football team — The Carolina Panthers. Source: Public Domain

Faircloth was defeated for re-election by John Edwards, who later ran for vice-president in 2004 and president in 2008, before an extramarital affair ended Edward’s political career.

A cotton and hog farmer at heart, Faircloth returned to Clinton after his work in the Senate, where he continued running his successful farming operations.

“It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of US Sen. Lauch Faircloth,” said NC Treasurer Dale Folwell in a statement Friday morning. “His career in public service spanned decades and his contributions to the people of North Carolina and the country were numerous. He brought attention to the importance of agriculture in our economy and made sure people knew food came from a farm, not a store. Our hearts and prayers go out to his family.”

Faircloth’s daughter, Anne Faircloth confirmed his death on Thursday.