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Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Presidential Files: Bill Richardson's Animal Magnetism in the Land of Enchantment

When animal advocates survey the field of presidential candidates, there is a lot of parity among those who have served in Congress. Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, and Barack Obama have all been supporters of animal welfare. But when you look at the three candidates who have served as governors, only one chief executive has advanced the cause of animal welfare in his home state in a meaningful way. 

Mike Huckabee impeded animal welfare in Arkansas, and even attempted to impede an investigation into an act of cruelty allegedly committed by his son. (Yesterday, Huckabee traipsed around an Iowa corn field and shot a pheasant in his continuing efforts to pander to the NRA and the sport hunting lobby.) Mitt Romney doesn't have Huckabee's terrible record, but he was no friend to animals in Massachusetts, even though his state has one of the highest percentages of animal advocates in the country. But in New Mexico, Bill Richardson has managed to implement path-breaking reforms and exhibit real leadership on humane issues.

At the end of 2006, Gov. Richardson announced a precedent-setting animal protection package for the state. The ten-point plan included a multi-million dollar expenditure for animal protection projects, such as animal shelter improvements, spay/neuter and adoption programs, sanctuaries for neglected horses, a wildlife law center, and humane education in public schools. The comprehensive proposal is a model for what other states should seek to achieve, and if it can be done in New Mexico—one of the poorest and least populated states in the country—there is no excuse for others not to follow suit. During Richardson's tenure, he has provided more than ten million dollars for wildlife conservation, animal shelters, animal control, spay/neuter projects, cruelty investigations, and other animal welfare programs.

Richardson followed the animal protection package by diving into a hotly250x200_rooster_stockxpert contested legislative debate. He publicly advocated for a ban on cockfighting, and this year New Mexico became the 49th state to outlaw the practice (quickly followed by Louisiana, which became 50th). Some people argue that it was too little too late, and the state should have acted much sooner—after all, 35 states banned cockfighting before New Mexico even joined the union in 1912. But animal advocates had been fighting this battle for two decades in New Mexico, and it was only when Gov. Richardson entered the fray with his active support and his considerable lobbying abilities that the ban was actually achieved.

The governor also reacted strongly this year when a high school student's science fair project—under the guidance of the University of New Mexico—involved the cruel treatment of animals.  Mice were forced to swim until nearly drowning, hung by their tails with adhesive tape, and electrically shocked, all to measure hopelessness and depression. Richardson called for a full investigation and urged laboratory animal reforms at research universities. Among other animal protection bills that passed under Richardson's watch, New Mexico enacted Scooby's Law to require the addition of a bittering agent in antifreeze to prevent the poisoning of children and pets and the Animal Sheltering Services Act to set standards for the practice of euthanasia at shelters.For the governor's work to protect animals, he received a 2007 Milagro Award from Animal Protection of New Mexico. 

250x200_oryx_stockxpert_3 Of course, very few candidates are perfect on animal issues. The governor created the New Mexico Rodeo Council in 2005 and since then has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote rodeo and construct new facilities. The Associated Press reported this summer that Richardson considers himself a "recreational hunter," and the governor's office provided a photo of an exotic oryx he shot in 2005 at a captive hunting ranch. Like a few other candidates, Richardson is promoting his hunting bona fides and bragging about his prowess as a sportsman. We wish the presidential hopefuls would go to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and adopt a dog or cat to show their compassion, instead. 

On balance, Bill Richardson has moved the needle forward for animals in the Land of Enchantment. He has set a new standard for action on animal protection issues by a sitting governor, despite lapses on important issues like hunting and rodeo.

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