Thursday, November 6, 2008

Michael Markarian: Animals & Politics

Michael Markarian: Animals & Politics

Link to Michael Markarian: Animals & Politics

A Big Election Day for Animals

Posted: 06 Nov 2008 02:33 PM CST

On Tuesday, voters from coast to coast sent a strong message that animals deserve to be protected from cruelty and abuse, and the humane movement won resounding victories in the presidential race, congressional races, and ballot issue contests. These new public policies and new and reelected policymakers will have a meaningful impact on the lives of animals for years to come.

On statewide ballot measures, the animal protection movement continued to go head-to-head with industries that exploit animals—this time, the factory farming and dog racing industries—and once again we came out on top. In the congressional races, we proved that when animal advocates get involved in electoral politics, our humane voting bloc makes an impact and gets results. Animal advocates used to sit on the sidelines when these important races were being decided, but not anymore.

Some of the races are still in play, and here is a wrap-up of this week's results and what we know so far.

Voters Side with Animals in Ballot Measures

Victory_panel Animals won big in the two major battles that sent shockwaves across the nation, with Californians passing Proposition 2 to stop cruel confinement of farm animals by a vote of 63% to 37%, and Massachusetts voters passing Question 3 to ban greyhound racing by a vote of 56% to 44%. Both of these measures have national implications for the industries that are impacted, and will have ripple effects on future public policy and corporate policy changes. And the overwhelming margins of these victories should help quiet those who would defend cruelty.

The agribusiness industry spent $9 million in California—mostly from national egg factory farming companies—on a campaign to scare voters about food safety and costs. But Californians saw right through it, and Prop 2 passed by wide margins not just in the urban centers, but in 46 out of 58 counties—including solid majorities in rural counties with a large agricultural presence, like Kern, Imperial, Placer, Riverside, and San Bernardino. Whether urban or rural, voters across all demographics agree that all animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food.

Nearly 6.3 million Californians said "yes" to a better way for farm animals, and this measure will help the largest number of animals of any animal protection campaign in history. Prop 2 will phase out the use of veal crates for calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and battery cages for egg-laying hens, and will alleviate the suffering of 20 million animals confined in tiny crates and cages in California. But it is also likely to lead to similar policy reforms in other states, and to corporate policy changes that will move the factory farming sector away from some of the worst abuses in the industry.

In Massachusetts, greyhound advocates took the dog racing issue to the ballot for the third time in eight years, and the third time was a charm. Since 2002, more than 800 dogs have been injured at the state's two racetracks, and the injuries included broken legs, head trauma, and heart attacks. The dogs are confined in cages for most of the time they're not racing, and they're treated as disposable when they're no longer profitable. Question 3 will speed up the demise of this dying industry, and will also send a message to other states that dogs deserve to be protected, not harmed in this way.

We also helped to fight back a ballot measure that would have harmed animal protection efforts. Arizonans soundly rejected Proposition 105, which would have set an impossible standard for any future ballot initiative. If Prop 105 had been enacted, any future measure would have needed a majority of registered voters in order to pass—including dead people still on the rolls, and voters who don't bother to show up to the polls—rather than a majority of those who vote. No candidate has to meet that standard, and it would have been a de facto ban on the ballot initiative process. Arizonans protected their right to direct democracy and sent Prop 105 down in flames by a vote of 66% to 34%.

In a local ballot measure in South Tucson, Ariz., voters passed Proposition 401, the Tucson Dog Protection Act, which bans some of the cruelest abuses of the racing greyhound industry. Prop 401 passed narrowly by just 29 votes, and it will make sure that dogs have basic standards of care by prohibiting continuous confinement, the feeding of diseased and low-grade meat, and the use of anabolic steroids.

The animal protection movement lost one measure in Oklahoma, where we did not put up any meaningful opposition. State Question 742 passed easily by a vote of 80% to 20%. It aims to prohibit future ballot measures related to wildlife issues by doubling the signature requirement for citizens who wish to bring a state question to the voters of Oklahoma. It also designates hunting, fishing and trapping as the preferred means of managing certain wildlife, potentially derailing useful and groundbreaking management tools before they even get place on the table. This measure was a cynical and underhanded power grab by the legislature to take away the rights of Oklahoma citizens. We had finite resources and chose to put our resources into the other major battles discussed above.

A More Humane White House

Obamabidenwin_2 The presidential ticket endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund emerged as victorious on Tuesday night, with Barack Obama and Joe Biden elected as our next president and vice president. HSLF had backed Obama and Biden because both senators have been strong supporters of animal protection legislation. Obama has cosponsored legislation to stop horse slaughter and crack down on dogfighting, and has spoken out on issues such as the abuse of downed cattle when he was on the campaign trail. Biden has been a leader on animal protection legislation, and has fought in the Senate to protect dolphins from drowning in tuna nets and to stop the captive trophy hunting of exotic mammals. In the most recent Humane Scorecard, Obama and Biden each scored 75 percent, while John McCain scored 25 percent.

We had been especially concerned about Sarah Palin's terrible record on animal protection and conservation issues in Alaska, and her retrograde policies that encouraged shooting wolves from helicopters and denying protections for threatened polar bears. The thought of Palin being a heartbeat away from the presidency had struck fear in the hearts of animal advocates across the nation. The extremist NRA spent millions of dollars campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Palin, and it was clear that Obama-Biden was the ticket for animals.

The next president and vice president will have an enormous impact on animal protection policies, through enforcement and regulatory actions by the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and other federal agencies. We congratulate the Obama campaign on this historic win, and we look forward to working with the new administration for a more humane White House. Additionally, we were heartened to hear President-Elect Obama mention his family's soon-to-be-adopted dog in Tuesday night's acceptance speech—and we're grateful to hear that the dog will come from a shelter and will send a message of hope and change for homeless dogs across the country.

Battle in the Detroit Suburbs

In recent years, the animal protection movement has been more active in congressional races around the country, but has focused its resources each election cycle to take out one leading opponent of animal welfare. In 2004, Congressman Chris John (D-La.) lost the U.S. Senate race in Louisiana because animal advocates highlighted his support for the cruel and barbaric practice of cockfighting. In 2006, House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) lost his seat because HSLF made well known his extreme views on trophy hunting, commercial whaling, and other animal exploitation.

This year, the Detroit suburbs of Oakland County were ground zero for animal protection, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund targeted Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.) for defeat. Over his 16 years in Congress, Knollenberg had averaged a score of 12% on animal protection issues—which means he sided with animal abusers 88% of the time, on issues such as polar bear trophy hunting, horse slaughter, the abuse of downed cattle, and enforcement of the federal animal fighting law.

HSLF spent more than $400,000 on TV ads in the Detroit market, and animal advocates knocked on tens of thousands of doors in Michigan's 9th District, letting voters know about Joe Knollenberg's long and embarrassing record on animal cruelty. Our campaign was having such an impact over the last two weeks of the race, that Knollenberg even held press conferences, paid for radio ads, and made robo-calls trying to explain his record on animal protection. As Republican pollster Steve Mitchell told the Detroit Free Press, "when you're spending a lot of time trying to defend the fact that you're not cruel to animals, it makes it harder to win."

Peters The race had been a tossup until a couple weeks ago, but Democratic challenger Gary Peters edged out Knollenberg by more than 33,000 votes, a commanding margin of 52% to 43%. When Peters served in the Michigan Senate, he was a champion for the humane treatment of animals, and often spoke on the Senate floor in favor of animal protection legislation. He was one of our leaders in the effort to keep mourning doves protected in Michigan and to prevent the NRA's attempts to allow the target shooting of these gentle and inoffensive songbirds. There is no doubt that animal issues played a major role in the outcome of this race, and we are replacing an enemy of animal welfare with a great new leader on our issues in Congress.

Other House and Senate Outcomes

The returns continue to come in, and HSLF-endorsed candidates in the House and Senate races now stand at 290 wins and 17 losses. We've lost some great friends of animals in Congress, such as Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Reps. Nancy Boyda (D-Kan.), Don Cazayoux (D-La.), Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), Phil English (R-Pa.), Ric Keller (R-Fla.), Jon Porter (R-Nev.), and Chris Shays (R-Conn.). We were not against their opponents so much as we were for these incumbents who had been strong supporters and leaders for animal welfare. We will be sad to see these lawmakers leave Washington, but we will congratulate the victors in these races and hope to work with them, too, on humane legislation in the 111th Congress.

We helped to reelect some of our greatest champions in Congress who were facing competitive contests, such as Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.). Many of our other champions cruised to reelection without much of a threat, like Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), and Carl Levin (D-Mich.), and they will continue fighting for animals. And we welcomed new friends of animals to Congress, such as Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who will become the only veterinarian in the House of Representatives, and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), who knocked off enemy of animal welfare David Davis in the Republican primary.

In fact, we defeated some of the worst enemies of animal welfare in Congress, in races that were high priorities for HSLF. While Michigan's 9th District was our most visible effort, another race in Michigan's 7th District came out in our favor as well. First-term Congressman Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) had voted against nearly every animal protection bill, siding against us on polar bear hunting, wild horse slaughter, conservation programs, and keeping primates as exotic pets. HSLF contacted 12,000 voters in the district, and Democratic challenger Mark Schauer—the Minority Leader in the Michigan Senate and an advocate for animals—won by about 7,000 votes, a margin of 49% to 46%.

In another important House race, Democratic challenger and friend of animals Suzanne Kosmas defeated Republican incumbent Tom Feeney in Florida's 24th District. Kosmas has been a strong supporter of animal protection in the Florida state legislature, and Feeney has received among the lowest possible marks annually on the Humane Scorecard. He was even one of only 24 lawmakers who opposed the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act in 2006, which requires the inclusion of pets and service animals in emergency plans. Additionally, Democratic challenger Walt Minnick edged out first-term Rep. Bill Sali (R-Idaho) by just 4,000 votes, a margin of 51% to 49%. Sali has had a terrible record on our issues, and he even opposed strengthening the federal penalties for illegal dogfighting and cockfighting.

We are closely watching the open seat in Maryland's 1st District, where HSLF had backed Frank Kratovil over anti-animal extremist Andy Harris, and Kratovil is currently leading Harris by just 915 votes out of more than 320,000 cast. HSLF had mailed to 19,000 voters in the district, letting them know that Harris, a Maryland state senator, is one of the most extreme anti-animal legislators in the entire country. He even has the distinction of being one of the only lawmakers who has voted against legislation to ban the shooting of live animals over the Internet.

In the Senate, HSLF backed two challengers in competitive races and won on both counts. In New Hampshire, we mailed to nearly 40,000 voters in the state urging them to elect Democratic challenger Jeanne Shaheen over Republican incumbent John Sununu, and Shaheen has won the race by 52% to 45%. When she served as governor, Shaheen was a strong supporter of animal protection, and she worked to crack down on abusive puppy mills, strengthen the state's law to combat animal fighting, require proper sheltering of dogs from inclement weather, and promote spaying and neutering programs to address pet overpopulation. Sununu has generally not been a supporter of animal protection, scoring a zero on the most recent Humane Scorecard for the 110th Congress.

Merkley1 Across the country in Oregon, one of the closest races has been Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley against Republican incumbent Gordon Smith. HSLF backed Merkley, and reached out to more than 70,000 voters in the state. A leader for animals as Speaker of the Oregon House, Merkley has fought for efforts to crack down on animal fighting, ban the cruel confinement of breeding pigs on factory farms, and protect the voter-approved initiative that banned bear baiting and hound hunting of bears and cougars. The Oregonian has called the race for Merkley, who was leading by just 40,000 votes out of 1.5 million cast, and Gordon Smith conceded this morning. With Merkley in the Senate, he will be an incredible new champion for animal protection.

We also picked up several new friends of animals backed by HSLF in open Senate seats, including Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.). We are still awaiting the outcome for HSLF-endorsed Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.), a leader on animal protection issues, who is ahead of comedian Al Franken by just 438 votes out of nearly 3 million cast and may be facing a recount. And on the House side, a few races remain to be called, and we are waiting to see if HSLF-endorsed Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) can hold onto his reelection, and if new friends of animals like Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Charlie Brown (D-Calif.) can win their contests for open House seats.

On balance, it was a big election day for the Democrats, but we have to remember that these swings can be cyclical and that animal protection is not the province of either political party. Protecting animals from cruelty and abuse is a mainstream social value, and cuts across party lines and political ideologies. HSLF backed the individuals who were the better choices on animal protection policies, regardless of their party affiliation, and we call on animal advocates to join us in working with members of both parties to advance the important reforms for animals.

Our humane voting bloc played a meaningful role in the 2008 elections, and we are grateful to all of you who voted for humane candidates. If animal advocates had not participated in these races, the outcomes would be different and animals would be worse off. Now, we celebrate the victories, but we also prepare for the challenges ahead—turning our attention to the 111th Congress and to working with elected officials to advance the animal protection policy agenda.

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