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November 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NRA is All Muzzle and No Bullet

A few days after the election, an excerpt from this Washington Post editorial on the waning power of the NRA caught my eye:
Examination by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence of spending by the National Rifle Association in the 2012 elections showed that, of the $11.8 million spent to defeat President Obama and $3.4 million across six key Senate races—88 percent of its federal independent expenditures—the gun lobby could claim no victories; all of its candidates lost. This evidence that the association’s ability to influence elections may be exaggerated should stiffen the spines of Mr. Obama and congressional leaders to take on this important issue—before another person touched by gun violence has to stand up in court to offer words about the horrors of loss.
In fact, when you look at all of the NRA’s endorsed federal candidates, the gun lobby won only 45 percent of Senate races and 83.6 percent of House races. Compare that to congressional candidates endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, who won 83.3 percent of Senate races and 92 percent of House races. There is some overlap as both groups tend to endorse large numbers of incumbents, and not all the races were competitive—but it’s the third election cycle in a row, regardless of whether there were gains by Democrats or Republicans, in which the pro-animal endorsement muzzled the pro-gun endorsement.

The most important comparison, perhaps, lies in the 34 races where the NRA and HSLF went head-to-head and endorsed opposing candidates. Both groups generally throw their weight behind candidates who are viable, so these were all competitive contests, and some were decided by very narrow margins. Of these races, HSLF won 27 and NRA won only seven—meaning HSLF was the victor 79.4 percent of the time to the NRA’s 20.6 percent. In four out of every five races, the HSLF candidate edged out the NRA candidate.

HSLF went seven for nine in the head-to-head Senate match-ups, winning in Connecticut, Florida, Michigan, New Mexico, New York, Ohio and Wisconsin—some of which would typically be considered strong NRA states where the group spent collectively more than $2.3 million on independent expenditures—for an HSLF win rate of 77.8 percent. And on the House side, HSLF won 20 contests and the NRA five, for an HSLF win rate of 80 percent. The winners included strong animal protection supporters like Reps. Tim Bishop, D-N.Y., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., and Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., returning Reps. Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., and Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and a leading animal advocate from the Arizona state legislature, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., each of whom the NRA spent thousands of dollars trying to defeat.

The fact that the NRA spent millions of dollars on elections without much to show for it, and continues to trail behind HSLF on election outcomes, demonstrates that the NRA’s political influence is not only overstated, but is evaporating. Lawmakers who continue to fear the gun group and romanticize its political prowess have simply favored mythology over effectiveness. This isn’t a revelation for us, because we’ve faced off against the NRA in statewide ballot initiatives, and have typically prevailed, even in some of the biggest hunting states in the country, on practices such as hounding and baiting of bears and cougars, steel-jawed leghold traps, and mourning dove hunting, and on blocking the NRA’s attempts to prevent future ballot measures on wildlife protection.

Bear_polar_bear_and_cub_270x224Lawmakers haven’t yet caught up to the voters, and this has been on full display in the Senate lately as both Democrats and Republicans have been falling all over themselves to pass an NRA grab bag—the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” S. 3525, to allow imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies, prevent restrictions on toxic lead ammunition, and usher in other anti-wildlife policies. Fortunately, the bill hit a roadblock last night when it failed to get 60 votes on a procedural motion; it will likely be back in the lame-duck session. 

The NRA continues to push extreme policies like polar bear trophy hunting and poisoning our environment with toxic lead, and to oppose common-sense restrictions on inhumane and unsporting practices such as canned hunts, baiting and hounding of bears, aerial gunning of wolves, and even poaching. The group puts its loyalists in a political box, and it seems that lawmakers who demonstrate their fealty to the NRA rarely even benefit in the end. This election cycle is one more example of the NRA’s message having limited appeal to core ideologues, while HSLF’s message of protecting animals from cruelty and abuse has a universal reach with mainstream constituencies, including swing voters who will be critical to both parties in tough races.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Senate Puts Polar Bears on Thin Ice

Congress returns to Washington today after the election, and gets back to the business of the country. You’d think that first up on the Senate’s agenda today would be jobs, the economy, dealing with the fiscal cliff, or even climate change. But instead, the very first item on the Senate’s lame-duck calendar is something really important to the American people: importing 41 polar bear heads and hides from Canada so they can adorn the trophy rooms of wealthy big-game hunters.

Polar bearIt’s S. 3525, introduced by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and it’s the first order of business in the Senate today. It’s the kind of special interest legislation that makes Americans frustrated with Congress, and it’s designed to benefit a small number of wealthy trophy hunters who travel the globe bagging the most imperiled creatures for their collections. Such as the Safari Club members who wish to acquire bragging rights for the “North American 29” award in the record book, by killing a minimum of 29 species and subspecies of animals, including the polar bear, in North American habitat.

Call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose S. 3525.

The Humane Society of the United States issued a new report today, “On Thin Ice: The Dangerous Impact of Allowing Polar Bear Trophy Imports,” highlighting the threats to polar bear conservation and future protected species. The report notes that there are fewer than 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears remaining in the wild, and the only population that appears to be increasing in size no longer faces pressure from trophy hunting.

The polar bear is a threatened species that faces extraordinary pressures, including melting ice, overharvesting, and pollution. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) listed the polar bear as “Vulnerable” based on a projected population reduction of more than 30 percent within three generations (45 years) due to a decrease in distribution and habitat quality. Import of polar bear trophies was banned in May 2008, when the Bush Administration listed the species as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The drive for polar bear trophies, and for Safari Club awards, only intensifies these threats by killing bears who already struggle to survive in a changing climate. In 2007, the last full year when polar bear trophy imports were allowed, 112 polar bear trophies were imported to the United States—more than double the number from the previous year. In 2011, the Nunavut territory of Canada increased the hunting quota for one of its polar bear populations (western Hudson Bay) by more than 250 percent—from 8 bears to 21—despite concerns expressed by polar bear researchers that the increase in take could be harmful to the population. Nunavut has plans to increase that quota even further for the 2013 season, to 24 bears.

Now comes S. 3525 and the latest in a series of congressional import allowances for polar bear trophies. While some argue this is just a small number of trophies and the bears are already dead, it encourages hunters to continue killing protected species in other countries, store the trophies in warehouses, and simply wait for their allies in Congress to get them a waiver on the imports. Congress has several times granted these import allowances—a de facto repeal of the import ban—sending a message to trophy hunters that they can continue killing imperiled species and eventually they will get approval to bring home their trophies. The cumulative impact encourages more reckless killing of imperiled animals around the globe.

Polar bear populations are declining, and we must do everything we can to slow the mortality of these majestic creatures. Congress should not use the lame-duck session to pass a special-interest bill that puts threatened polar bears and other protected species in further jeopardy. Call your two U.S. Senators today at (202) 224-3121, and urge them to oppose S. 3525.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Election Wrap-Up: Mixed Results for Animals, Hope on the Horizon

DogLast night’s election returns ushered in some important changes for our country, but with the existing political alignment largely retained—and, in this case, with some new names and faces and with more Democrats in each chamber of Congress. The big story was, naturally, that the American public re-elected President Obama, and we congratulate him and look forward to working with his administration to build on his animal protection record. A number of pending regulatory actions are in the pipeline on puppy mills, downer veal calves, chimpanzees in research, and other animal protection issues, and we hope to get these over the finish line soon and to jumpstart other issues in the next four years. But the election again showed the continuing partisan divisions in the country, and that division is a reminder that HSLF must, more than ever, remain committed to a bipartisan approach to drive forward an animal protection agenda and to figure out ways to conduct the business of the country without causing abuse and harm to animals.

U.S. Senate

Senate candidates endorsed by HSLF won 15 of 18 state contests, for an 83.3 percent win rate. We helped to elect strong supporters of animal protection from the House to open Senate seats in competitive states—including Reps. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. (with 51.4 percent of the vote), Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. (51 percent), and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. (55 percent)—who will grow the ranks of animal advocates in the Senate. We also helped to re-elect some of our leading champions on animal protection bills—including Sens. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.—all of whom will be coming back for another term. The alternatives in some of those races would have been hostile to animal protection issues, including former Gov. Tommy Thompson, R-Wisc., who campaigned with hunting enthusiast and NRA board member Ted Nugent, and Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., who has opposed most animal welfare bills. 

We lost a leader for animal protection in the Senate with the defeat of Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and we thank him for his strong support of animal welfare issues during his time in office; we expect the winner of that seat, Elizabeth Warren, to be a supporter of animal protection. We also were unsuccessful in Arizona and Nevada, with Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., defeating Dr. Richard Carmona, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., defeating Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., in competitive races. We will reach out to the winners of those contests as well as to other Senate victors in states where HSLF had not made any endorsement, and look forward to working with them in the 113th Congress.

U.S. House

House candidates backed by HSLF appear poised to win in 166 of 180 congressional districts, for a 92 percent win rate. With aggressive direct mail, phone banking, and grassroots outreach, we helped lawmakers from both sides of the aisle win re-election in very competitive seats—including Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. (with 56.6 percent of the vote), Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. (52.8 percent), Jerry McNerney, D-Calif. (54.1 percent), Gary Miller, R-Calif. (55.3 percent), Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo. (53.3 percent), and John Tierney, D-Mass. (winning with a plurality of 48.3 percent, by just 3,650 votes). A number of former House members, backed by HSLF, are coming back to Congress—including Dan Maffei, D-N.Y., Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and Dina Titus, D-Nev.—all of whom had outstanding records on animal protection when they previously served, and we are pleased to have them back in office. And some state legislative champions of animal protection, such as Assemblywoman Grace Meng, D-N.Y., who sponsored a bill in New York to ban the trade in shark fins, will be new members of the 113th Congress.

One race still appears too close to call, but HSLF-backed candidate Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was the leading animal advocate in the Arizona Legislature, is currently ahead of her opponent by about 2,100 votes. We lost several House members who were strong supporters of animal protection and were in highly competitive races—including Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Howard Berman, D-Calif., Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., Bob Dold, R-Ill., Nan Hayworth, R-N.Y., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio—and we thank them for their public service and their strong leadership on the humane treatment of animals. We have strong expectations that the winners of those races, with the exception of Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, will be advocates for our cause.

One of the top priorities for HSLF was the race between Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Christie Vilsack in Iowa’s newly drawn 4th Congressional District. King has been one of the leading opponents of animal protection in Congress, and he survived his race last night, defeating Vilsack by a vote of 53.2 to 44.6 percent. HSLF ran TV ads in the district, letting voters know about King’s voting record on animal fighting, pets in disasters, and other animal protection bills. Although King won, the race became much more competitive than it had originally been, and animal issues became part of the discourse in rural western Iowa. Four of the five major newspapers in the district opposed King in their endorsements, and voters—about half of whom are represented by King for the first time due to redistricting—are now aware of his record on animal protection and will hopefully hold him accountable on future votes. Animal issues are being discussed even in the most rural, conservative parts of the country, and HSLF does not shy away from taking on these tough fights.

State Races

HSLF made endorsements only in select state races, where the candidates were especially strong animal advocates and leaders for our cause. We are pleased to report that former Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., backed by HSLF, has the lead in Washington’s gubernatorial race, and Kathleen Kane, with a strong record on prosecuting animal cruelty cases, has won the attorney general’s post in Pennsylvania. State Rep. John Maher, R-Pa., lost his bid for auditor general, but we look forward to continuing to work with him in the legislature as the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in the Keystone State.

Other longtime animal advocates in state legislatures were victorious, with help from HSLF, including Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Wash., who has led the effort to retain voter-approved prohibitions on bear baiting, cougar hounding, and steel-jawed leghold traps; Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Calif., who led California’s effort to ban the trade in shark fins; and Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calif., who authored a bill to prevent landlords from forcing tenants to de-claw cats and de-bark dogs, and helped pass California’s ban on hound hunting of bears and bobcats as chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee. A chief opponent of animal protection, Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Colo., who had introduced a bill to allow sport hunting of bears during the spring when mother bears are nursing dependent cubs, was defeated by 768 votes, thanks to the work of animal advocates.

Ballot Measures

As I wrote last night, North Dakota voters rejected Measure 5, but they did not reject the idea that there must be a felony animal cruelty law in the state. It’s largely a settled matter due to this ballot initiative campaign, and the opponents of the measure have pledged to pass legislation in 2013 to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty. We consider that a win for animals, and will work hard to make sure it happens next year. California voters approved Prop 30, by a vote of 54 to 46 percent, which protects future funding for law enforcement, including animal protection and anti-poaching laws.

You can see the full list of HSLF-endorsed candidates and outcomes in our Voter Guide. All in all, while the results were mixed for animals in races across the country, and some contests have yet to be decided, we have great hope and optimism that the cause of animal protection will continue to make gains in Congress, in state legislatures, and with regulatory agencies. Animal protection issues are being discussed as part of the political discourse like never before, and voters in every corner of our country—red states and blue states—are becoming aware of the challenges facing animals and the steps needed to protect them and prevent large-scale cruelty and abuse. Thank you to everyone who voted, volunteered, and got the word out for humane candidates across the country—your efforts continue to make a difference.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Building a Consensus on Animal Cruelty in North Dakota

There is disappointing news from North Dakota tonight, as Measure 5 appears to be going down to defeat. The opponents of this measure, mostly ranching and farming trade associations, were able to cast doubt among voters and tell them the proposed felony animal cruelty law was written by “outside” groups, as if the language morphs into something different depending on who backs it. Would any reasonable person expect anything but that HSLF and The HSUS would back an upgrade of the anti-cruelty law? 

Nd_logoBut the good news is that supporters and opponents agreed that North Dakota needs a felony cruelty statute, and Measure 5 was the catalyst for that discussion. Even the newspaper editorials opposing Measure 5—parroting our opponents—said the legislature must enact a strong and comprehensive law and make North Dakota the 49th state with felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty.

The North Dakota Legislature has failed for years to strengthen North Dakota’s weak anti-cruelty law, and last year even voted down a bill to study the issue. Now there’s an emerging consensus on the subject, and we hope it’s just a matter of time before the worst acts of cruelty are penalized with more than just a slap on the wrist. This issue is now on the public agenda because of the Measure 5 campaign, and the work of the dedicated North Dakota volunteers who gathered signatures and drove the public discussion on the need to protect animals in the state.

Even in one of the most rural, agriculture-oriented states in the country, like North Dakota, animal protection issues are now part of the public discourse. We may have lost the short-term vote, but animal advocates are gaining long-term ground by planting the seeds of reform and building a network of advocates and supporters who are fighting for this cause.

Our opponents said during this campaign they plan to enact a strong and comprehensive felony cruelty statute to protect all animals in 2013. We plan to hold them accountable on that pledge, and they will find our coalition ready to help. If they fail to pass a felony cruelty bill, however, we should expect to see another ballot measure in 2014, and the voters will know how hollow their promises were. These issues are ascendant, even in tough states, and are not going away.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Election Day Humane Voter Guide

If you’re ready for the election to be over, you’re not alone. After months of campaigning, TV ads, and robo-calls, tomorrow is the day when the vast majority of voters cast their ballots on the presidential, congressional, state and local races around the country.

Before heading to the polls, I hope you’ll check out the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s Voter Guide for a list of endorsed candidates and election recommendations in your state.

2012_voter_guideAnimal advocates need to know who is standing up for their interests, and which candidates are friends of animal protection. HSLF is a nonpartisan organization, and endorses Democrats, Republicans, and Independents who have demonstrated a record of commitment to protecting animals from cruelty and abuse. Our full slate of endorsements reflects that nonpartisan approach.

By clicking on the map, you’ll find a list of humane candidates who are supported by HSLF in critical races for U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, as well as some state and local races where champions of animal protection are running for office, and ballot measures that impact animals.

No matter whom you vote for, please get out and vote. You can find your polling place and other election information at Vote411.org. Your participation in the process can have a direct impact on the future of animal protection and other issues that you care about.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Lawmakers’ Opposition to Disaster Relief Leaves People and Pets Out in the Cold

As the nation continues to reel from the effect of Hurricane Sandy, and some areas begin their slow and difficult recovery, it’s a reminder of just how important it was for Congress to pass the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006, which now requires disaster plans to include pets and service animals. The legislation came in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the Gulf Coast, after so many people stayed behind and put themselves and first responders at risk because there were no plans to care for pets.

Enactment of this law showed the bipartisan work of lawmakers at their very best: The bill was championed by the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, with Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., and the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., with former Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn.—and they got a major assist from then-Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairwoman Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and then-House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, and Ranking Member Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., among others. The House passed the bill by a landslide vote of 349 to 24, and the Senate passed it unanimously. President George W. Bush signed it into law, saying that if he could take one thing while evacuating during a disaster, he would take his dog, Barney.

Disaster_-_evacuate_sidebarAbout two-thirds of American households have pets. A Zogby International poll after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast found that 61 percent of pet owners will not evacuate if they cannot bring their pets with them. When people may lose their home, their job, their school, their place of worship, and be separated from loved ones, just knowing that their pet is safe can be an emotional comfort and help get them through a time of crisis.

Because there is now an official federal policy in place on pets in disasters, responding agencies are better prepared to assist families that include pets and service animals in a time of crisis. More emergency shelters allow people to bring their pets when they evacuate disaster-stricken areas, or have separate accommodations set up for temporarily housing pets. The response to Hurricane Sandy took pets and service animals into account, which made the human relief effort more effective, since people were less likely to stay behind and put themselves in danger. In the years following Katrina, residents have benefited from having a federal policy on pets and service animals in disasters.

Seeing how much the law has helped so many thousands of Americans over the last six years makes it even more puzzling that two dozen rogue lawmakers voted against it, putting the worst possible light on Congress. Some of those House members are no longer serving in office, but others are facing competitive election battles next week—such as Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, running in Iowa’s new 4th Congressional District, and Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., running for the open U.S. Senate seat in Arizona. Flake’s opponent, Dr. Richard Carmona, a former U.S. Surgeon General, was very outspoken, in his public service career, in considering the needs of pets in disaster planning.

HSLF ran TV ads on King’s voting record on animal protection issues, and radio ads on Flake’s record, pointing out their opposition to including pets in disaster plans. With Hurricane Sandy on the minds of voters this week, they will surely see that politicians like King and Flake are out of touch with mainstream American values. These lawmakers failed to recognize that caring for pets and service animals in disasters is a necessary component of any successful response, given the close bond that people have with their animals.

If you live in Arizona, or in Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, please share these graphics (Flake and King) on Facebook and urge your friends, family, and neighbors to oppose Jeff Flake for Senate and Steve King for Congress.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Trust the People, Not the Politicians

North Dakotans will vote next week on Measure 5, to make it a felony to maliciously and intentionally harm a dog, cat or horse. Lawmakers in neighboring states such as Montana and Minnesota adopted felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty years ago, and Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Oklahoma took action in the 19th century! In fact, 48 states have done it, and it’s embarrassing that North Dakota is such an outlier.

Opponents of this common-sense anti-cruelty measure have put forward the false and flimsy argument that voters should not pass any animal cruelty law, because the legislature should handle it instead. Really?

Watch TV ads for Measure 5North Dakota legislators have had decades to upgrade weak penalties in the state’s anti-cruelty law, and last year, the state House of Representatives voted down the idea of even studying the issue. That’s right, S.B. 2365, the bill to study whether to make animal cruelty a felony, failed in the House by a vote of 36 to 56.

YEAS: Amerman; Anderson; Boe; Dahl; DeKrey; Delmore; Glassheim; Gruchalla; Guggisberg; Hanson; Hawken; Hogan; Holman; Hunskor; Johnson, N.; Kaldor; Keiser; Kelsh, J.; Kelsh, S.; Kilichowski; Klemin; Kreun; Kroeber; Meier, L.; Metcalf; Meyer, S.; Mock; Mueller; Nelson, J.; Onstad; Sanford; Steiner; Wall; Williams; Winrich; Zaiser

NAYS: Beadle; Bellew; Belter; Boehning; Brabandt; Brandenburg; Carlson; Clark; Conklin; Damschen; Delzer; Devlin; Dosch; Frantsvog; Froseth; Grande; Hatlestad; Headland; Heilman; Heller; Hofstad; Johnson, D.; Karls; Kasper; Kelsch, R.; Kempenich; Kingsbury; Klein; Koppelman; Kreidt; Kretschmar; Louser; Maragos; Martinson; Monson; Nathe; Owens; Paur; Pietsch; Pollert; Porter; Rohr; Ruby; Rust; Schatz; Schmidt; Skarphol; Streyle; Thoreson; Trottier; Vigesaa; Weiler; Weisz; Wieland; Wrangham; Speaker Drovdal

ABSENT AND NOT VOTING: Nelson, M.; Sukut

Now, do you get why North Dakotans to Stop Animal Cruelty filed Measure 5, and why more than 25,000 North Dakotans signed petitions to place it on the ballot?

Measure 5 is an opportunity for North Dakotans to enhance some protections for animals right now, and the legislature can still make further upgrades to the cruelty law in 2013, if lawmakers have a turn-around from their past intransigence on the issue. North Dakotans should trust the people, not the politicians, and vote YES! on Measure 5.

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