November 13, 2018

Five Notable Animal Protection Take-Aways from the 2018 Election

Democrats won control of the U.S. House of Representatives, while Republicans held on to control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats also won gubernatorial races in seven states previously held by Republicans but fell short in a few key swing states where they’d believed there was a path to victory. The Democrats had a net gain of 250 state legislative seats, but that still leaves Republicans in control of substantially more state legislative chambers.

While those are the popular political headlines of the mid-terms, there are some meaningful subplots, including those on animal issues.  Here are some major take-aways for animal advocates:

Animal advocates again showed their muscle on crucial ballot measure fights, continuing a 25-year track record of winning ballot measure campaigns.

Last Tuesday, animal advocates dominated at the ballot box. Voters approved Amendment 13 in Florida to phase out greyhound racing with 69 percent favoring it, and that’s especially significant because Florida is the only state where greyhound racing is a big business. Voters also approved Proposition 12 in California to establish a cage-free future there with 61 percent in support. It was the second time in 10 years that California voters said it’s time to stop confining animals in enclosures so small they can barely move.

Two years ago, voters sided with animal protection advocates on three of three statewide ballot measures by overwhelming margins in Massachusetts (protecting farm animals), Oklahoma (defeating a “right to farm” measure), and Oregon (restricting the trade in wild animal parts). Animal advocates have never lost an anti-factory farming, anti-cockfighting measure, or anti-wildlife trafficking ballot measure, and have won a series of other measures through the years to combat the trophy hunting of lions, bears, wolves, and bobcats; to end the use of steel-jawed leghold traps; and to ban canned hunts and the target shooting of mourning doves. Amendment 13 was the second win on measures to ban greyhound racing.

The Florida measure all but dooms the national greyhound racing industry. Just a few years ago, there were 50 tracks operating, and with the voters’ decision to close all 11 tracks in Florida within a couple of years, just six other tracks will remain elsewhere. It’s hard to imagine that such a withering industry, with such a small fan base and an increasingly negligible handle, can hang on for long. Trounced in Florida, the greyhound racing industry now confronts a confident and emboldened animal protection movement with more momentum and more resources for the skirmishes to come. Animal Wellness Action was proud to play a major role in the campaign, donating nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the Amendment 13 committee and working with colleagues in the movement to set and execute the winning strategy that produced the landslide vote.

The vote in favor of Prop 12 in California is a major stroke against key sectors of animal agriculture that have long relied on extreme confinement of animals as a core production strategy. The measure approved by voters not only requires more space for farm animals in the state, but it also stipulates that veal, pork, and eggs sold in California must come from farms that don’t rely on extreme confinement, no matter where the farms operate. This new policy will push farmers to relinquish or repurpose their extreme confinement facilities and begin anew in a way that aligns their conduct with the values of their customers. Caring people don’t have any appetite for factory farms that immobilize animals, and the voters of California sent that unmistakable message once again.

A record of hostility to mainstream animal protection reforms is a severe risk to lawmakers seeking re-election.

Animal Wellness led efforts to oust two of the worst anti-animal politicians in the U.S. – Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions of the north Dallas area and long-time incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. Sessions and Rohrabacher, both senior Republicans, showed disdain for animal issues throughout their long Congressional careers. And they rightly paid a price for their lack of concern for animals. Animal exploitation industries hardly rushed to their defense, leaving them exposed to our campaign that exposed their votes to defend dogfighting, horse slaughter, the killing of wolf pups in their dens, and, in the case of Rohrabacher, his unapologetic defense of dog-meat eating.

Gratuitous votes against mainstream animal welfare sensibilities pose no benefits and only risks for politicians. These are just the latest lawmakers who bucked common sense and compassion and saw the abrupt end of their legislative careers.

You can see more details of their records and all other federal lawmakers by going to our Congressional Accountability Tool.

Democratic control in the House should dislodge a raft of animal protection legislation that Republican committee leaders dithered on or blocked.

There are six bills in the House that a majority of lawmakers have signed onto as cosponsors. Despite this overwhelming show of bipartisan strength, Republican leaders have not passed even one of these bills in both chambers. Defeated Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions wasn’t the only lawmaker who engaged in obstructionism. So did Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop of Utah.  Mercifully, Goodlatte is retiring, and Bishop is deposed as committee chairman, given the Democrat take-over. They will be replaced by pro-animal Democrats as committee chairs, and we should pro-animal legislation readied for action and brought to the floor. Democrats coming into the House for the first time are also decidedly pro-animal.

The King amendment is all but dead, but anti-soring legislation now has an even tougher climb because of a new face in the Senate.

Rep. Steve King of Iowa narrowly prevailed in his re-election effort, but his political standing suffered an additional hit when he was called out by top party leaders for outrageous rhetoric just days before November 6th. Because of his prior acts of extremist behavior, Republican leaders had denied King the chairmanship of the House Agriculture Committee despite his long tenure, and more recently denied him a seat as a key negotiator on the Farm bill.  His latest outbursts only underscored his reputation as a pariah within the party. And now that he’s in the minority, his far-reaching amendment to gut state farm animal and anti-puppy mill laws seems doomed.

The news is not as good on the issue of horse soring – the practice where trainers injure the feet of Tennessee Walking horses to cause them to exaggerate their gait in a painful performance likened to a human walking across hot coals barefoot. The industry’s biggest defender, Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, won a competitive race for an open U.S. Senate seat. Along with two other Senators aligned with the industry, she will be undoubtedly do her best to stand in the way of forward movement for an anti-soring reform bill.  If that legislation were brought up for a fair vote in either the House or Senate it would easily win, but politics is more complicated than a simple numbers game.

Democrats should be able to hold the line on extreme anti-animal riders.

During the recent era of Republican control of both chambers of Congress, it’s been a challenge to fend off anti-animal riders and free-standing measures to de-list wolves and to block legislation to enable extreme hunting practices, such as wolf killing in refuges and parks, de-listing wolves across their range in the U.S., and the continued use of toxic lead ammunition on national wildlife refuges.  We may face some of these threats in the upcoming lame-duck session, but the take-over by Democrats in the House should improve our chances of blocking these extreme measures come January.

Lawmakers may act on the Farm bill, with several pro-animal provisions, in the lame duck session of Congress.

Agriculture Committee leaders are signaling strong interest in completing work on the Farm bill in November and December.There are three key animal protection measures in play on the bill – cracking down on animal fighting in U.S. territories, banning the sale or dog or cat meat in the U.S., and authorizing a new program to help domestic violence centers accommodate pets so that women can leave abusive situations with their animals. Each measure has broad bipartisan support, and we are hopeful that if the Farm bill is taken up, these provisions will be included.

This week’s national elections are a reminder that elections have consequences, both good and bad for animals. We celebrate our ballot measure wins and, in terms of candidate elections, expect the new alignment in Congress to put us in a position to advance our ambitious agenda and block the worst maneuvers from our adversaries to hurt animals for profit and amusement. Lawmakers who battle mainstream reforms would do well to remember the fate suffered days ago by Congressmen Sessions and Rohrabacher.

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