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Elections

Friday, October 31, 2014

Feeding Garbage to Bears and Voters in Maine

I’ve been involved in dozens of political campaigns around the country over two decades, and the brazen lies and scare tactics used by state officials working in collusion with the bear baiting, hounding, and trapping crowd in Maine are among the worst I’ve ever seen. The Bangor Daily News, which doesn’t even support Question 1, has published editorials calling the opponents of the measure “dishonest” and judging their claims “low-quality arguments that don’t pass the straight-face test,” with the wrong compounded by the fact they are spending state tax dollars telling people how to vote.

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Alamy

The opponents of a ban on baiting keep saying “trust the experts,” but a court-ordered release of internal documents demonstrates that the experts don’t believe their own alarmist rhetoric. The “Yes on 1” campaign today released two new videos highlighting the other side’s hypocrisy and the hollowness of their claims.

The first video shows three uniformed staff members of the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife — all but working full-time, it would seem, to defeat the baiting ban — saying “it’s a serious threat to public safety.” But their own words prove their claim to be false: DIF&W’s Randy Cross said in a 2012 email to a constituent, “I think your fear of bears is exaggerated and is not rational…Since there has not been an unprovoked bear attack in the history of white settlement in Maine, it is not a realistic threat.”

Moreover, in a recent op-ed, George Smith, the former director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and the guy who led the campaign against a similar initiative a decade ago, concedes that “you do not need to be scared of bears. I will admit that scaring you about bears was an important part of our strategy…If you see a bear in the woods, you are most likely to see its rear end as it flees.”

What’s worse, their TV ads feature a sensational bear attack in Florida, which has no relevance to baiting, hounding, and trapping. Except that the bear in this case was “baited” into an open garage with food in a trash can, and the people involved were charged by state wildlife officers for illegally feeding bears. That’s right, the opponents invoke this bear attack, from 1,500 miles away, involving people in a Florida neighborhood who were feeding this bear.  

Precisely in order to avoid incidents like this, every reputable wildlife agency in the country says “Don’t feed the bears” — except the outliers in Maine and a small number of other states who support using Twinkies and Dunkin Donuts as a “wildlife management tool.” Good wildlife managers know that “garbaging for bears” is the worst thing you can do, because it swells the bear population and teaches them to look for human junk food.

The second video features DIF&W staff saying bears don’t struggle but “just sit there,” and that all of these tools are “necessary, safe, and kind.” With images of bears struggling to free themselves from wire snares, and being torn apart by packs of dogs, does the idea that these practices are “kind” really pass the straight-face test? It’s terror, not kindness. You have to wonder how detached and desensitized these people at the agency are, and shake your head at how far off of the rails they’ve gone in their public capacities. Of course, the head biologist for the state is a bear baiter and recreational trapper, so it should not come as a huge surprise.

Maine is in a sad class by itself as the only state in the nation to allow all three of these extreme methods of killing bears. And the apologists for shooting fed, treed, and trapped bears will apparently say and do just about anything to get their way. Please share these videos and make sure Maine voters and all concerned people know the truth about these false and dishonest claims.

Paid for with regulated funds by Mainers for Fair Bear Hunting. P.O. Box 15367, Portland, ME, 04112

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Tale of Two Attorneys General

When advocating for the enactment of humane laws, we're sometimes reminded that getting a bill passed by the legislature and signed by the governor means we are “up at halftime going into the locker room.” Before we can have confidence that a new law will have impact, we often have to defend against legal challenges and ensure that it is properly enforced. We rely on all sorts of law enforcement personnel to do this work. But often a key second-half player is the state’s chief law enforcement officer—the attorney general.

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The HSUS
AG Harris stood up for the humane treatment of hens.

Take Missouri AG Chris Koster, for example. He stumped for Missouri’s “right to farm” amendment which passed by just 0.2 percent of the statewide vote and could allow puppy mills and corporate factory farms to harm animals with impunity.

And, as another sop to Big Ag, he led a group of states that filed suit in federal court, trying to tell California it didn't have the right to ban the sale of eggs from hens crammed in tiny battery cages so small that they can’t even flap their wings—animals who were more likely to carry Salmonella, too.

The failed lawsuit, which Koster said would cost less than $10,000, ended up bilking Missouri taxpayers for more than $83,000, and he far overshot his promised ceiling.

Thankfully, there are attorneys general who are standing up for animals and consumers, not for Big Ag and special interests. California AG Kamala Harris successfully defended the state law on the sale of inhumane and unsafe battery cage eggs. A federal judge in Sacramento accepted the argument advanced by her office and by HSUS attorneys that Koster and his cronies lacked standing to challenge California’s law, going so far as to disallow any attempt to re-file the case.

In fact, because California is a leader on animal protection policy, AG Harris has faced an unprecedented set of challenges to state laws. Other states, egg producers, shark fin traders and foie gras factory farms have all sued California over wildly popular laws aimed at protecting animals from abuse and cruelty. And in each case, AG Harris and her office were successful in defending and upholding these important policies.

In addition to the Koster suit, Harris helped defeat three separate challenges to Proposition 2, the pioneering ballot initiative that will require by January 1, 2015 that breeding pigs, veal calves, and laying hens in California have enough space to turn around, stand up, lie down, and extend their limbs. One of those challenges remains pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where AG Harris continues to defend the farm animal protection measure.

General Harris and her team were also critical in defending California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, aimed at cracking down on the brutal practice of shark finning, which is contributing to the widespread decimation in shark species worldwide. In the face of a lawsuit brought by shark fin traders, AG Harris and HSUS attorneys argued successfully that California’s law is neither discriminatory nor preempted by federal fisheries management laws. The law stands and will help stem the tide of shark fins and prevent sharks from being butchered alive at sea.

And finally, in news that broke last week, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal brought by foie gras producers, aimed at upending California’s ban on the sale of the fatty, diseased liver from cruelly force-fed ducks and geese. General Harris defended the law at the district court and on appeal, and filed a brief opposing Supreme Court review of the Ninth Circuit opinion, while Koster joined 12 other attorneys general in filing an amicus brief asking the Supreme Court to consider overturning the foie gras ban.

The attorney general is a statewide, elected office in California, Missouri, and most other states. Attorneys general like Koster use their office as a hammer to drive their political ambitions.

But there are other lawmakers not only committed to the rule of law, but also to the values of mercy and humane treatment for animals, even those raised for food. California voters should be proud that Kamala Harris is standing up for what’s right and that she's fighting to protect abused animals and the will of the people. HSLF is proud to endorse her for reelection.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Newspapers Urge YES on Maine's Question 1 to Protect Bears

Whenever we’ve confronted terrible cruelty, there’s always been a fierce effort to defend it. I think of tough fights in Louisiana to ban cockfighting, in California on Prop 2 and extreme confinement, and on bear baying in South Carolina.

Seldom do we see unanimous support for reform. There are always opinion leaders who don’t accept the real meaning of animal protection, or others who excuse cruelty or think it’s too much, too fast.

That’s certainly the case in Maine, where there is a looming ballot initiative to ban bear baiting, hounding, and trapping. There, some opinion leaders defend this sort of cruelty and unfair treatment. But I’m struck by so many people calling cruelty for what it is.

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istock.com

The Journal Tribune says, “It’s hard to imagine a self-respecting, lifelong, traditional Maine woodsman calling himself a hunter when all he does is shoot a feeding, treed or trapped animal point-blank.”

The paper gives readers a clear picture of what these practices involve:“Traps only need to be checked once every 24 hours, which can leave an animal tormented for a lengthy period of time, and even though the snares no longer have cutting teeth, they can still result in the loss of a paw or digits as the animal attempts to escape. Hounding, while it requires significant time commitment in training dogs, places both the hunting dogs and the bear in danger as they confront one another.”


Further, the York County Coast Star says, “Maine is one of a last handful of states where baiting is allowed, and for good reason. The practice, akin to shooting fish in a barrel, is simply inhumane, and we see nothing sportsmanlike in shooting bears that have been lulled into a near sugar coma by stale doughnuts.”

The group of community papers including the Penobscot Bay Press, Castine Patriot, Island Ad-Vantages, and the Weekly Packet have also rendered their judgment, stating, “It is time that Maine joins the 21st century by showing respect and compassion for a species that shares our land and resources by stopping these unnecessarily cruel and harmful practices. We recommend a strong and unequivocal yes vote.”

And Current Publishing’s chain of newspapers across southern Maine emphatically states, “It’s cruel on many levels…We believe that the act of luring and killing snared bears just doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t even seem like hunting. And we’re not sure why a hunter would feel satisfied with such a kill. Instead of allowing this method of hunting to continue, bring back bear hunting the way it should be.”

Even the papers that oppose Question 1 couldn’t find a lot of favorable things to say about these practices or those who defend them. The Portland Press Herald says, “A bear that’s chased by hounds has to run for its life and spends its last minutes terrified. A bear that steps in a cable snare can spend as long as 24 hours tethered to a tree before a hunter returns to shoot it.”

The Press Herald acknowledges that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife “overreached” in its public campaign against Question 1 and judged that the TV ads “featuring uniformed state employees warning of a public safety crisis that could occur if the referendum passes were unnecessarily alarmist.”

The Bangor Daily News, too, says the state agency opposing Question 1 is making “low-quality arguments that don’t pass the straight-face test.” The paper also calls on politicians and state officials to do away with bear hounding and trapping: “If it fails at the polls, the Legislature and IF&W need to ban recreational bear trapping and hounding, or risk having this costly fight again.”

That doesn’t inspire much confidence in the decision makers who have made Maine an outlier, as the only state to still allow these three extreme bear hunting methods. They’ve had years to get it right, but they continue to allow bears to struggle and suffer in wire traps for hours or even a day, or to be chased by packs of GPS-collared hounds and shot off a tree branch. And they allow garbage dumps to be set up in the woods, with 7 million pounds of Twinkies and jelly doughnuts every year swelling the bear population and creating nuisance bears.

When the politicians and state officials are unresponsive to the wishes of the public, it’s time for the public to weigh in. Mainers can do just that in two weeks—and can end cruel and unsporting bear baiting, hounding, and trapping—by voting “YES” on Question 1.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Cast Your Ballot for Animals

On February 18, 1958, then-Senator John F. Kennedy told an audience of Loyola College alumni in Baltimore that we should “not seek the Republican answer or the Democrat answer but the right answer.”

Today, 56 years later and just 26 days shy of a crucial election, we at the Humane Society Legislative Fund are also after the right answers. The right answers for animals are the lawmakers who will fight animal cruelty and abuse, and stand up for the values of kindness and compassion.

This week we released our Animal Protection Voter Guide—a list of those humane-minded candidates endorsed by HSLF who need your support in three and a half weeks. You’ll see Democrats, Republicans, and Independents on the list—we make endorsements based on candidates’ records or positions on animal issues rather than on political party or affiliation.

We hope you’ll take the Voter Guide with you to the polls. Election Day is November 4, but early voting is already open in many places throughout the country. Check the guide to see if voting is open where you live.

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Julie Busch Branaman
Vote for humane candidates on or before Nov. 3

So, so much is at stake this year. Michigan residents: you’ll notice a slate of pro-animal candidates at the federal and state levels who need your support, and we’ve highlighted the important NO vote on Proposals 1 and 2.

There are fewer than 650 wolves in Michigan, and and the federal government recently took them off the endangered species list. Politicians and state officials didn’t waste a minute to try to open a trophy hunting season, fabricating stories about wolf encounters with residents to support their reckless idea. 

The use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves may all be in store if the Natural Resources Commission is given the unilateral power to decide on these cruel methods without any checks and balances from Michigan voters. Voters can say NO to the trophy hunting of wolves and say NO to this power grab by politicians, with a NO vote on Proposals 1 and 2.

November 4 will also be critical for Maine residents: You have the chance to ban the baiting, hounding, and trapping of bears, by voting YES on Question 1. Maine is the only state in the country to still allow all three of these cruel and unsporting practices. Hunters are not allowed to bait, hound, or trap deer or moose, and they shouldn’t be allowed to do it to bears. It's particularly cruel to trap a bear in a snare, and it’s unfair to shoot a bear out of a tree or over a dump site. Head to your city or town hall to cast your YES vote for Question 1 now—you don’t even have to wait until Election Day.

Along with these ballot measure campaigns, there are important candidate races from coast to coast. The pro-animal candidates need your help and your vote. In order to have humane laws, we must elect humane lawmakers. We need people in office who will stand up to puppy mills, factory farming, animal fighting, and other abuses, and support a positive agenda of animal welfare.

Your vote, combined with that of other humane voters who care about the fate of animals, can be the difference.

The animals are counting on us to participate in this election. Please grab your list, and make sure to vote early or on November 4.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Taking Stock of Progress in Maryland

Just in time for early voting to begin in the Maryland primary election, we are pleased to release the Maryland Humane Scorecard, a joint project of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and our good friends at Maryland Votes for Animals. We publish this report to inform Marylanders how their state senators and delegates performed on a broad range of animal protection issues over the 2011-2014 legislative session. Maryland citizens who care about animal protection can use this record to find out if their elected lawmakers are representing their views in Annapolis, and to help advance animal protection work in the Free State. Md. Humane Scorecard

The scorecard gives us an opportunity to look back over the last few years and chart the progress of our public policy work on behalf of animals in Annapolis. The last Maryland Humane Scorecard covered the 2007-2010 legislative sessions, and included all of the floor votes on animal issues from those four sessions—11 in the Senate and seven in the House. This year, we scored 15 votes in the Senate and 13 in the House, and there were even more animal protection measures that came up for votes. During the 2014 session alone, five important animal welfare reforms were signed into law.

These bills also enjoyed a much higher percentage of support among lawmakers than in previous years—in fact, more than 50 percent of all members of the Maryland General Assembly received a perfect score, casting humane votes every time they had the opportunity. With their votes, we succeeded in enacting major policies like establishing a statewide program to reduce shelter euthanasia by funding spay/neuter services, banning the sale and possession of shark fins, requiring pet stores to disclose basic information about the puppies they sell, and adopting a breed-neutral dog bite law that overturned the reckless canine profiling in the state that had discriminated against pit bull-type dogs as “inherently dangerous.”

The breadth of bipartisan support for all of these humane measures confirms—yet again—that Maryland citizens and their elected officials oppose animal cruelty in all its forms and are willing to stand up for reasonable policy reforms that codify those values into law. The HSLF and The HSUS advocate for mainstream policies that legislators on both sides of the aisle can sponsor and support, with many of them becoming near-consensus positions among lawmakers.

Of course, this scorecard doesn’t tell the whole story of what happens in Annapolis. Many bills each year never receive votes at all, left to languish in committee or quietly slipped into a drawer. Some lawmakers sit on committees that regularly consider animal protection legislation, and others don’t. To get the most accurate read on your elected officials, you should also find out about their committee work, constituent service, and other issues. But the Maryland Humane Scorecard provides a snapshot of the activity in Annapolis and a basic measuring tool for holding lawmakers accountable on animal issues. If you live in Maryland, please check it out and share with others. And please, get involved in political activity for animals and continue to support this critical work in our movement no matter which state you live in.

 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Super PAC Forms to Promote Animal Abuse

Every day, every minute, animals are at risk somewhere, whether they’re languishing in abusive puppy mills, confined in metal cages on industrial factory farms where they can barely move an inch, or caught up in some other enterprise that puts profit over animal welfare. And as much as we’ve gained ground in our efforts to help those animals, it’s still the case that there are wealthy special interests and hard-hearted individuals trying to keep them in the crates and mills to guarantee their further suffering. They work every day to perpetuate the status quo, and even to deregulate animal use industries so that they have nothing to fear and no accountability. They want just the appearance of legal protections for animals, or no laws at all. 

Michael Beckel of the Center for Public Integrity has reported that millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, founder of Lucas Oil Products, has formed a new Super PAC to oppose animal welfare. Lucas is perhaps the biggest pro-animal abuse money man in America. With his personal net worth of $300 million and his company’s annual revenue of $150 million, Lucas can fund a huge war chest and his new Super PAC can spend unlimited amounts on political ads in elections. 

He’s already demonstrated there's no limit to his hostility to animal welfare. In 2010, Lucas spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bankroll the opposition to Proposition B in Missouri, which voters approved to set common-sense standards for the care of dogs in large-scale puppy mills. Lucas then supported an effort in the Missouri legislature to weaken and repeal parts of the voter-approved measure, before it even had a chance to take effect. In 2012, Lucas and his group Protect the Harvest spent more than a quarter-million dollars opposing Measure 5 in North Dakota, which sought to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to dogs, cats, and horses. In 2013, Protect the Harvest even lobbied against a local ordinance in Crawford County, Indiana to require proper shelter of dogs and cats and another proposal in Harrison County to promote the spaying and neutering of pets to help reduce pet overpopulation.

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Missouri puppy mill dogs exposed to the elements

What kind of group defends puppy mills, fights meaningful anti-cruelty laws, and wants to deny companion animals a roof over their heads and protection from the elements? Protect the Harvest is even fighting against family farmers by pushing a new measure on the August ballot in Missouri, Amendment 1, which would prioritize the interests of foreign corporations and industrial factory farms over humane and sustainable agriculture, and prevent any future standards for the care of animals in agriculture, even for the "farming" of dogs in puppy mills.

Now, with the new Super PAC, we can expect more well-funded attacks from Lucas on animal protection efforts across the country.That’s why it’s more important than ever that the Humane Society Legislative Fund strengthen its own hand, so that it can stand up against such attacks, and expand its efforts to fortify the nation’s laws to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. With your help, we can continue our work to pass animal protection laws, educate the public, and elect humane candidates to office.

Please join us in fighting back against the anti-animal forces, and make a donation to HSLF today. Standing strong and standing together, we can overcome the attack by one millionaire on the animal welfare movement, the proper care of animals, and decency and mercy in society.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Super Tuesday for Animals

It took less than ten minutes after the Kentucky polls closed last night for Sen. Mitch McConnell to be declared the victor in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate over challenger Matt Bevin—about the same amount of time birds with razor-sharp gaffs strapped to their legs will last in a cockfighting match. Bevin’s campaign was derailed by cockfighting, and he lost ground after speaking at a rally organized to legalize the blood sport in Kentucky, getting trounced by a statewide margin of 25 points in what was originally supposed to be a competitive race.

In fact, Bevin lost by even wider margins and underperformed against his statewide totals in some of the most notorious cockfighting counties in the state. In Clay, Edmonson, Floyd, Laurel, and Pike Counties — home to some of the state's largest cockfighting pits, with names like the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club, which features arena-style seating, a full-service restaurant, and laminated membership cards — Bevin lost by a range of 31 to 60 points. The cockfighters don’t seem to be much of a voting bloc, and politicians have nothing to gain by catering to these organized criminals who commit unspeakable cruelty to animals.

Cockfighting Gaff
Example of the razor-sharp knives strapped to fighting birds. Photo Credit: The HSUS/Alex Gallardo

In Louisiana, the last state to ban cockfighting, it used to be conventional wisdom among some politicians that you couldn’t go against the cockfighters, and there are even some lawmakers who still defend the sport as “chicken boxing.” But just yesterday, the state legislature took another step in the right direction by giving final passage to a bill that fortifies Louisiana’s 2007 anti-cockfighting statute. If signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal, it will increase the first-offense penalties for cockfighting, tighten the definition of birds used for fighting, and ban the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia, to help law enforcement crack down on this staged animal combat. It’s a sign of the times that the last state to have legal cockfights may soon have one of the strongest anti-cockfighting laws on the books.

In other election news, Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue are headed to a runoff in the Republican primary for the open U.S. Senate seat in Georgia. We were pleased to see Rep. Paul Broun place fifth among the GOP candidates, getting only 9.6 percent of the vote. Broun described himself as a volunteer lobbyist for Safari Club International before coming to Congress, and during his time in office, he has had one of the most extreme anti-animal records, opposing the most modest efforts to prevent cruelty and abuse, and going out of his way to attack animal protection. Shockingly, he was one of only three lawmakers to vote against legislation in 2010 to ban the trafficking in obscene animal “crush” videos, in which scantily clad women in high heels crush puppies, kittens, and other small animals to death for the sexual titillation of viewers. Good riddance to him, since he gave up his House seat for his failed Senate run.

Paul Broun and Matt Bevin may be the poster boys for a new premise in politics:  Being soft on animal cruelty can be fatal to your prospects.

 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Politics of Cockfighting and Horse Slaughter

Tonight, WAVE 3 News in Louisville is airing an exclusive story, for which reporter John Boel went undercover with a hidden camera at a recent pro-cockfighting rally. The investigative report asks the question, “What did Kentucky politicians really promise to cockfighters?” and focuses on GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin’s appearance at that rally, raising questions about his statements that he didn’t know the purpose of the event was to promote the legalization of cockfighting.

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Photo by KRGV

In the weeks since the story broke, Bevin has said that cockfighting is a “states’ rights” issue, and even that it’s “part of a tradition and a heritage that go back for hundreds of years and were very integral early on in this country.” But the organizers of the event had promoted it as a rally to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky. If it’s a state issue, and the state currently bans cockfighting, does Bevin support or oppose that anti-crime and anti-cruelty law? The hidden-camera video obtained by WAVE 3 News should shed some light on the situation.

Manu Raju of Politico reported yesterday that Bevin’s Republican primary opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, has released a new statewide radio ad attacking Bevin on the cockfighting issue. The ad lampoons Bevin for attending the pro-cockfighting event, and for “making national headlines, but not in a good way.” The primary is May 20th, and it’s just more evidence that the political winds are blowing against the small but vocal group of people who unlawfully force animals into staged combat, and that politicians have nothing to gain by associating with these organized criminals.

An important animal welfare issue is coming up in another GOP statewide primary race, too, this one in Texas. Brittney Martin of the Dallas Morning News reported that in the race for state agriculture commissioner, Republican Tommy Merritt has sent a mailer to primary voters drawing attention to rival Sid Miller’s efforts to legalize horse slaughter. When both candidates served in the Texas legislature, Miller introduced bills seeking to repeal the state’s ban on the sale of horsemeat for human consumption.

“I voted against the bill [in 2003] and on the side of the horses and the people who love animals,” Merritt said. “It’s very clear to me that he has total disrespect for the animals.”

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An American horse waiting in a pen to be taken to slaughter

Texas, along with Illinois, was the last place in the U.S. to have active equine abattoirs, which were shuttered in 2007 when Congress banned the use of tax dollars to inspect and certify horsemeat for human consumption. A number of plants have tried unsuccessfully to open since that time, but most people don’t want their community to be known as the one that killed Trigger and Mr. Ed, just to serve up horse meat as a delicacy to foreign gourmands in Belgium and Japan.  

It’s clear that animal issues are becoming a larger part of our civic and political discourse, and mainstream voters stand on the side of decency, opposition to cruelty, and the rule of law. No party or candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, should defend animal cruelty without understanding the political consequences. When candidates court the cockfighting crowd or the horse slaughter profiteers, they’re taking a bigger political risk than they ever imagined.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Foot-in-Mouth Disease Strikes Kentucky Senate candidate

GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin has offered a number of excuses, since news broke that he attended a rally organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. He said he’s “never been to a cockfight, don’t condone cockfighting,” but stopped short of saying unequivocally that he opposes animal fighting or that he supports the enforcement of anti-cockfighting laws. Bevin also said he “doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.” But the cockfighters at the event were advocating for the repeal of the state’s anti-cockfighting statute. The point of the rally was to overturn Kentucky’s weak law against cockfighting, so how does Bevin’s invoking states’ rights clarify his participation at the event? 

His latest claim is that animal fighting is an American tradition. “But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin told Louisville’s WHAS News Radio. “This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky, for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very actively involved in this and always have been. These are things that are part of a tradition and a heritage that go back for hundreds of years and were very integral early on in this country. ”

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Photo by KRGV

Very integral?  Hardly.  While the cockfighters would have us believe there were fighting pits at Mount Vernon and Monticello, there is no historical evidence to support claims that the Founding Fathers were involved in animal fighting. There is evidence, however, that they actively sought to root out the cruelty, which they saw as frivolous and detracting from the seriousness of the Revolutionary War effort. The First Continental Congress passed legislation in 1774 to “discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of games, cock fighting, exhibitions of shows, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

Since that time, all 50 states have banned dogfighting and cockfighting, with dogfighting a felony in all 50 and cockfighting now a felony in 41. The members of the organized criminal network of cockfighters flock to the remaining states, like Kentucky, with anemic misdemeanor penalties, hoping that law enforcement will look the other way. They bring with them the associated activities of drugs, prostitution, and other crimes. It’s an underworld enterprise, and it’s still such a problem that the U.S. Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through.

State legislatures around the country, too, are working to fortify their animal fighting statutes. Louisiana, the last state in the union to prohibit cockfighting, is now considering a bill to strengthen the law by upgrading the penalties and banning the possession of knives, gaffs, and other cockfighting weapons. It appears that Matt Bevin isn’t the only politician who is confused about cockfighting: Although the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote, Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, said the bill interferes with “a legitimate sport known as chicken boxing.”

Whether some politicians invoke “chicken boxing,” “states’ rights,” or “American tradition,” these words amount to code for some form of decriminalization, so that cockfighters can still pursue their hobby without penalty.  The fact is, there’s no moral or rational justification for strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of birds, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces, just for the entertainment of spectators who gamble on the fights and are titillated by the violence and bloodletting. There’s a difference between “liberty” and “license” and the cockfighters don’t seem to understand it.  Now, in Kentucky, there’s a politician who doesn’t either.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kentucky’s Bevin Courts Cockfighting Vote

Politicians running for statewide office are known to show up at festivals, parades, county fairs, diners, a variety of commemorations, and even funerals. But it takes a very special kind of candidate to be a featured speaker at a  cockfighting rally, of all places.

That’s what U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin did, when he attended an event Saturday organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Republican primary, said he didn’t know it was a cockfighting event, and his campaign told the Louisville Courier-Journal it was “a state’s rights rally.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally stumbling into a cockfighting meet-up. Even the event’s organizers said there was “never any ambiguity” about why they were rallying, which was to advocate for making cockfighting legal. In fact, here are some of the ads promoting the event, which were circulated through pro-cockfighting Facebook pages and web sites:  Flyerforrally2

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There’s no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky’s already weak anti-cockfighting statute. We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces—just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Bevin’s claims about not knowing ring hollow, as he is now parroting the language of anyone who defends animal cruelty but masks their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights.” His campaign spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader his position on cockfighting: “Matt doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.”

The fact is, both the federal government and the states have a big role to play in cracking down on this form of intentional, malicious cruelty to animals. A substantial share of dogfights and cockfights involve interstate transport of the animals and parties from multiple states. There are also instances where due to corruption, lack of resources or lack of interest, local agencies refuse to prosecute large-scale animal fighting rings. Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation was prosecuted by federal authorities when the local commonwealth attorney refused to take action. In the absence of a federal animal fighting law, which Matt Bevin apparently opposes, the Michael Vick case would never have moved forward. 

All 50 states now ban cockfighting, and it’s a felony in 41, though it’s still a misdemeanor in Kentucky. It’s now moved to an underworld enterprise, but it’s still such a problem that the Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through. The latest upgrade to the federal law—to punish the spectators who finance the fights with their admission fees and gambling wagers and provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowds during law enforcement raids—passed the U.S. Senate three times before being folded into the final Farm Bill package.

Bevin’s primary opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, rightly voted for the animal fighting spectatorship amendment that made it into the final Farm Bill. That legislation was cosponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats, and endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 individual sheriffs and police departments across the country, as well as veterinary, animal welfare, and other groups. The only people on the other side? Illegal animal fighters.

There’s still a small and active group of cockfighters out there, but most politicians have left them behind, as society itself has done. Now, they are flocking to the remaining few states with weak misdemeanor penalties, like Kentucky, where they hope they can get away with a slap on the wrist, while the window is surely closing upon them. Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty.  He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.

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