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Friday, December 30, 2011

Where do the GOP Candidates Stand on Animal Issues?

Dog by capitol building - iStockphoto

The Humane Society Legislative Fund has not yet made any recommendation in the 2012 presidential race, but over the coming months we will be evaluating President Obama’s animal welfare record during his first term and looking at where the major Republican candidates stand on animal issues. Three of the major candidates remaining are current or ex-governors, one is a former U.S. Senator and House member, two serve in the U.S. House, and one served in the House and was Speaker of the House.

In short, each one has a record on animal welfare issues, and it’s an especially good time to examine the issues with the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday evening, and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina later in January. Animal advocates should factor animal issues when they evaluate the candidates and make a final decision.

Michelle Bachmann: Bachmann has generally gotten low marks on animal issues in Congress, earning an 8 percent (out of 100) on the Humane Scorecard for the 110th Congress, a 13 percent for the 111th Congress, and she’s on track to get 13 percent again for 2011. She has supported only a handful of animal protection bills during her congressional career, voting for measures to make animal fighting a federal felony, to ban commerce in animal crush videos, and to pair veterans with service dogs for therapy. She also supported an amendment in the House this year to limit agriculture subsidy payments to factory farms. She has, however, opposed most animal welfare measures, including modest reforms to ban the trade in dangerous primates as pets, to stop the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses from public lands, to prohibit the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, and to assist conservation programs that protect rare cats and dogs, cranes, marine turtles, and sea otters. She also voted to use tax dollars to kill wildlife as a subsidy to private livestock ranchers, and to block the Environmental Protection Agency from collecting data on greenhouse gases from factory farms.

Newt Gingrich: Gingrich earned a 21 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 103rd Congress, but did not have scores for subsequent sessions since the Speaker of the House typically does not vote. He did vote to allow sport hunting in the Mojave National Preserve, and to allow foreign aid dollars to be used to promote trophy hunting of elephants and other species. On the positive side, he cosponsored legislation to strengthen the Endangered Species Act, and when he was Speaker helped to prevent the weakening of endangered species protections. Gingrich is, so far, the only presidential candidate who has actively talked about the importance of the human-animal bond while on the campaign trail. He launched a web site called “Pets with Newt,” and he is widely known to be a fan of zoos. Gingrich wrote the foreword to the guidebook “America’s Best Zoos,” and often stops by to visit the local zoo when he’s in a new city.

Jon Huntsman: During his time as governor of Utah from 2005 to 2009, Huntsman signed a number of animal protection bills into law, including measures to create a dog and cat spay and neuter fund, to allow out-of-state veterinarians to assist during emergencies, and to ban the remote-controlled shooting of live animals over the Internet. He did more than sign bills, and actively used his leadership position to move an important policy toward enactment: At a time when Utah was one of a handful of states that did not have felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, Huntsman called a special session of the legislature in 2007 to address, among other issues, a felony animal cruelty bill known as Henry’s Law, named after a tortured dog. His spokeswoman said the governor supported the bill and that “Gov. Huntsman believes this legislation is very important and a progressive step in the right direction in how we can all better treat animals.” When he signed a bill in 2008 creating a first-offense felony penalty for abusing dogs or cats, he praised the animal advocates for their persistence in advocating for the new law, and stated, “As we treat our animals, so do we treat our fellow human beings. There is a connection there that I think is undeniable.”

Ron Paul: Like Bachmann, Ron Paul has consistently received low marks on animal issues in Congress: He earned a 10 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, a 14 percent in the 109th Congress, a zero in the 110th Congress, a 7 percent in the 111th Congress, and he’s on track to get a 25 percent for 2011. He has voted to allow the slaughter of American horses for food exports, the killing of Yellowstone National Park bison, the trophy shooting of bears over piles of bait on federal lands, the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses from public lands, the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, and the slaughter of downer livestock too sick or injured to walk on their own. He voted to block EPA from collecting data on factory farm emissions and voted against conservation legislation to protect rare cats and dogs, cranes, marine turtles, and sea otters. He was one of only a handful of lawmakers who opposed legislation to ban commerce in animal crush videos, to provide for pets in disaster planning, to ban the trade in dangerous primates as pets, to make dogfighting and cockfighting a felony, and to fund the enforcement of the federal animal fighting law. He has supported a handful of animal protection measures, to bar the trade in big cats as pets, to pair veterans with service dogs, and to cut funding for several government programs that harm animals, such as agriculture subsidies, lethal predator control, trapping on national wildlife refuges, and trophy hunting programs in foreign countries

Rick Perry: During his time as governor of Texas over the last decade, Perry has amassed a very strong record on animal protection, signing a number of animal protection bills into law, including measures to strengthen the animal cruelty and animal fighting laws multiple times, to regulate the private ownership of dangerous captive wildlife, to require the inclusion of animals in disaster plans, to protect bats, to allow the establishment of pet trusts, and to restrict the tethering of dogs, among others. The most recent legislative session was a banner year for animal protection lawmaking in Texas, and Perry signed bills in 2011 to regulate large-scale commercial dog and cat breeders, to ban attendance at cockfights and possession of cockfighting weapons, to require people convicted of cruelty to reimburse shelters for the costs of holding animals, and to allow pets and companion animals to be included in protective orders. The cockfighting industry and large-scale dog breeders urged him to veto these bills, and he tossed aside their concerns. He did veto a bill that would have allowed counties with populations greater than 450,000 to adopt ordinances regulating the roadside sale of animals. Perry famously paused while on a morning jog last year to shoot a coyote, and the state recently authorized the shooting of feral hogs from helicopters as well as the shooting of feral burros in Big Bend State Park. His staff members, however, are working with HSUS staff on the burro issue, and they have indicated that they are open to non-lethal approaches.

Mitt Romney: Romney attracted the ire of animal advocates when they learned that during a 1983 vacation, he put the family’s Irish setter, Seamus, in a carrier and strapped him to the roof rack of the station wagon. When the terrified dog urinated and defecated during the 12-hour drive, Romney pulled over, hosed down the dog, and continued the voyage from Boston to Ontario. As chief executive of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney also came under fire from animal protection groups for allowing a rodeo exhibition that included calf roping. His term as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007 was mixed, and Romney did not distinguish himself on animal issues. He appointed a raft of animal-unfriendly people to the state Fisheries and Wildlife Board, even though Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly passed a ballot measure calling for more balanced wildlife policy. He vetoed a bill that would have given students the right to choose alternatives to animal dissection in the classroom. He did, however, sign a number of animal protection bills into law, including measures to strengthen the animal cruelty and animal fighting laws and prevent a convicted animal abuser from getting the animal back. 

Rick Santorum: Of all the candidates who have served in Congress, Santorum was arguably the most active on animal protection issues. He earned a 60 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, and an 80 percent for the 109th Congress. But more importantly, he was the lead sponsor of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS) to crack down on large-scale commercial puppy mills, and held a hearing on the bill when he was the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation. He was also a leader in the Senate urging adequate funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and other animal welfare programs. He cosponsored legislation to establish federal felony penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, cosponsored legislation to require the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of pets, and voted to stop the slaughter of American horses for food exports.

It’s clear that Santorum, Perry, and Huntsman have the strongest animal protection records. They showed leadership and active support for our issues, and HSLF commends them for their past performance. Bachmann and Paul have demonstrated a consistent hostility or indifference to these concerns. Romney has largely been indifferent and has not been an active supporter. Gingrich has been a bit enigmatic, but he understands the power of the human-animal bond and has taken action to protect some of the most charismatic species.

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