Playing politics to win
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 1997:
The strength of the animal protection vote should be clear from the November
1996 referendum victories won against various especially abusive forms of hunting and
trapping in Colorado, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, and even Alaska.
Similar victories came in 1994, in Arizona, California, and Oregon, which then
passed the legislation that it affirmed last year. Referendum losses have come only in Idaho
and Michigan, two of the states with the highest ratio of hunters per capita.
Independent polls by Gallup, the Associated Press, and others have shown rising
support for animal protection, including endangered species protection, for more than a
decade. In November, this translated at last into political victory––in a manner distinctly
separate from other voting trends. All eight referendum victories came in states which also
elected conservative governors or legislatures, or both, in either 1994 or 1996. The animal
protection vote cut across partisan lines, as demographic studies have projected it should
since at least 1990. People who voted for fiscal conservatism and “family values” often
firmly rebuked traditional hunting-and-trapping-oriented wildlife management.
Animal protection lobbyists should be on a roll. Legislators should be aware that
when they pick up a gun for a photo-op, they lose as many votes as they gain.
of active hunters among the U.S. public is at 5% and falling, while according to
Associated Press just 47% of Americans think sport hunting is even “okay.”
Yet Bill Clinton bought a second term in the White House in part by endorsing
hunting as an official purpose of the National Wildlife Refuge system in March 1996,
opening two dozen more refuges to hunters between then and the election. Three hundred
of the 508 National Wildlife Refuges now permit hunting––60%, up from 40% 10 years
ago, when the Humane Society of the U.S. formed the Wildlife Refuge Reform Coalition.
That still isn’t enough for House Resources Committee chair Don Young (RAlaska),
who has resurrected a bill to give providing hunting opportunities equal priority
with wildlife conservation throughout the National Wildlife Refuge system.
Also as 1997 legislative sessions opened, the federal Agency for International
Development moved to spend $20 million to help Zimbabwe promote elephant hunting, via
the scandal-wracked Communal Areas Management Programme For Indigenous Resources,
better known as CAMPFIRE, formed by the Zimbabwean government with the encouragement
of the World Wildlife Fund and Safari Club International. Purportedly, CAMPFIRE
is to promote all forms of eco-tourism, but in 1995, according to an AID review, CAMPFIRE
still dervived more than 90% of its non-grant income from the sale of elephant hunting
licenses. Under the George Bush administration, AID committed $28 million to
CAMPFIRE in 1989, the same year that the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species banned traffic in elephant ivory. The ban forced AID and CAMPFIRE
to spend the first $8 million in a trickle––but word is that aptly named vice president Albert
Gore is now eager to lift the ban at the June CITES meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe.
At the state level, Washington senator Jim Hargrove, a Democrat, and
Republican counterpart Pam Roach in mid-February introduced a bill to reopen the justbanned-by-referendum
hunting of bears and pumas with hounds and bait. The Alaskan senate
and legislature both rejected governor Tony Knowles’ nomination of former Alaska
Wildlife Alliance president Nicole Whittington-Evans to the state Board of Game, because
she doesn’t hunt––and the senate moved to exclude anyone from the board who hasn’t held
a hunting or trapping license for five of the preceding seven years, never mind that
Whittington-Evans does fish. The bill would exclude 95% of the women in Alaska.
The New Hampshire senate killed a bill to ban bear and deer baiting and hunting
bears with dogs, 14-10, almost as soon as it was introduced. In Connecticut, general
assembly Environment Committee co-chairs Eileen Daily (D-Westbrook) and Jessie
Stratton (D-Canton) refused as they and predecessors have for 25 years to allow a proposed
leghold trap ban to reach the floor for a vote.
An ancient Chinese proverb warns that dragons lash their tails most ferociously in
their death throes. The hunting/trapping counterattack was expected. Yet it should have
been countered by equally aggressive bills to further curb hunting and trapping through fiscal
conservativism. The USDA Animal Damage Control Program should be especially vulnerable,
as a whopping makework project for trappers at public expense, whose major
function is killing wildlife to subsidize fewer than 3% of all livestock producers. Hunters
should be bounced out of the National Wildlife Refuges; the Pittman/Robertson taxes that
they pay on equipment to support land acquisition cover just a tiny fraction of the total cost
of acquiring and maintaining public lands, and should be seen as a “sin tax,” like the taxes
on tobacco and alchohol, rather than a bribe buying special privileges. At the state level,
wildlife agencies should no more be allowed to actively recruit hunters than departments of
motor vehicles are allowed to recruit drivers––and should be made to halt the stocking of
non-native species such as pheasant as targets for hunters, not only cruel but a fiscal loser.
From 67% to 89% of Americans have also told pollsters within the past 20 months
that they believe animals including farm animals have a right to live free from suffering,
even though 97% of the respondents still eat some meat, poultry, or fish. Yet animal protection
has lost even more ground against the farm lobby than against hunters.
The first animal protection law adopted in the future U.S., Liberty 92 in the 1641
Massachusetts Bay Colony Body of Liberties, was intended to benefit farm animals, but as
attorney David Wolfson points out in Beyond The Law (Animal Rights International, 1996)
“Twenty-eight states,” including 17 since 1985, “have enacted laws that create a legal
realm whereby certain acts, no matter how cruel, are defined as outside the reach of the
anti-cruelty statute as long as the acts are deemed ‘accepted,’ ‘common,’ ‘customary,’ or
‘normal’ farming practices. Similarly, certain states also exclude poultry from their anticruelty
statutes,” though 95% of the animals killed for human use are chickens.
Accordingly, Arkansas representative Tom Courtway (D-Conway) told Jay
Meisel of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on February 26 that in order to secure passage of
a decades overdue bill he introduced to insure that criminally abused animals may be seized
and “placed in the custody of a society which is incorporated for the prevention of cruelty to
animals, or an animal control agency,” he intends to amend it to exempt livestock. The
logic by which the farm lobby is compelling the amendments contends that farm animals
should be exempted because they are a farmer’s means of earning a livelihood. Yet a drug
dealer’s stash is his capital, too––and is seized, even when the substance itself may be
legally kept and sold under certain other circumstances. In most other areas of law, the
right to property is forfeited when the property is used in an abusive way. The purpose of
exempting farm animals from seizure in Arkansas is not the protection of property rights,
per se, but rather the maintenance of precedent that agribusiness in the state of Bill Clinton
and the Tyson poultry empire may do whatever it wishes to animals with legal impunity.
Punting is not kicking butt
Asking animal protection lobbyists why this lack of clout should be, when public
opinion clearly shows an atmosphere favorable toward change, ANIMAL PEOPLE found
a frequent mood of defensive resignation. They mostly didn’t want to talk about the overall
state of the cause, or––on the record––about where groups have gone wrong, most notably
with the 1990 and 1996 Marches for the Animals, each of which drew just a fraction of the
projected crowds and thereby seemed to demonstrate weakness. But some lobbyists did
want to claim as “victories” the failure in the 104th Congress of the several bills aimed at
gutting the Endangered Species Act, along with the so-called “Dolphin Death Bill” which
would repeal the U.S. dolphin-safe tuna standard. All these bills are back, however; at
best, animal-and-habitat protection lobbyists delivered an effective punt, keeping the other
side from scoring but not gaining points. Once again, animal protection lobbyists expect to
spend the next two years just trying to keep old ground.
We were told that neither Congress nor state legislatures will want to spend money
this term. But as argued above, major gains can be won just by cutting costly subsidies and
privileges. We were told that further legislative progress against the use of animals in biomedical
research is unlikely, except where industry benefits, as in the repeal of animal testing
requirements once alternatives are validated––but ANIMAL PEOPLE publisher Kim
Bartlett pointed that out back in 1985, when the most recent amendments to the Animal
Welfare Act on the subject of laboratory animals were adopted. She argued even then that it
was now time to refocus on areas of more animal suffering, such as hunting, which kills
more than 10 times as many animals per year, and animal agriculture, which kills 6,000
times as many. Congress typically revisits issues only after some years, so after the passage
of any major bill, one must move on or wither.
That, perhaps, is the nub of the problem. Because many of the early victories of
the animal rights movement involved laboratory animals, particularly against animal testing
of cosmetics, and proved to be strong fundraisers, the cause became fixated, remailing the
same old literature year after year instead of developing vigorous new campaigns to go after
hunting and animal agriculture––and significant gains against the fur trade, which combines
some of the worst of hunting and factory farm practice, were insufficiently followed up.
Once-effective antifur protests stagnated. Anti-hunting campaigns tended toward flamboyant
silliness, like the hunter harassment fiasco that began when just four states had hunter
harassment laws and ended when all 50 states had them, as the National Rifle Association
gained 300,000 new members by pledging to fight hunter harassment. Equally misdirected
were several campaigns against meat-eating, e.g. “Beyond Beef,” endorsed by many
national organizations––even though it tended to encourage not vegetarianism but rather a
switch from eating beef to eating poultry. Since it takes 100 chickens to produce the same
amount of meat as one cow, the beef-to-poultry switch actually increases exponentially the
number of animals suffering for human diet.
Much as the NRA likes to insinuate, more of the credit for decreasing hunting participation
over the past couple of decades could be given to Walt Disney than to the animal
rights movement, and the greater portion of credit for increasing vegetarianism must––ironically––go
to biomedical researchers, for discovering and publicizing the advantages of
vegetarianism to human health.
Although most of the national groups pretend to lobby, there are today fewer animal
protection lobbyists in Washington D.C. than a decade ago, and national representation
at the state level is no greater. The successful referendums––and most other recent
gains––have been won mostly by state and local groups, who have learned power politics
on their own. Some are now learning the most important skill, the art of ousting anti-animal
legislators and electing replacements with more favorable attitudes. This takes money,
escalating the perennial competition among advocacy groups. But it also enables donors to
keep score: who did each group target in the last election, with how much success?
The more incumbents lose because they run afoul of aggressive pro-animal campaigning,
the more respectful the rest will be when the time comes to vote on animal protection
measures. Nor does it matter much who the replacement for a bad incumbent is: a
good candidate is ideal, but the American political system puts a high premium on seniority,
and knocking off a bad incumbent is almost always advantageous even if the replacement
is worse: you can knock him or her off the next time around, sending an even
stronger message that future replacements had better be animal-friendly.