Editorial: Voting to help animals
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2006:
On midterm election day, November 2, 2006, depending on
the will of the U.S. electorate, both the House of Representatives
and the Senate may shift from Republican to Democratic control.
President George W. Bush, a Republican, will remain in the White
House until 2008, but history suggests that if either the House or
the Senate goes to the Democrats–or both–the outcome for the next
two years will probably be much better for animals than if either
party controlled all three elected branches of the federal government.
That possibility alone should be sufficient incentive to get
pro-animal voters out to the polls in the many closely contested
districts, even where neither candidate has a record on animal
issues that especially inspires either support or opposition.
Pro-animal voters will obviously want to support strongly pro-animal
candidates of either party, and oppose those with anti-animal
records, as indicated by the legislative scorecards published by
such organizations as Humane USA PAC and the Humane Society
Legislative Fund, but this year there is a further consideration.
Almost all of the major pro-animal federal legislation, including
the Animal Welfare Act, Endangered Species Act, and Marine Mammal
Protection Act, was originally passed and has been most positively
amended by divided Congresses. Precedent thus indicates that this
year the outcome of every seriously contested House and Senate race
matters to people who care about animals.
So-called “Congressional gridlock,” when neither party has
clear dominance, is good for animals because neither major U.S.
political party is closely aligned with pro-animal positions.
Neither party ever has been: animal issues have rarely been election
issues. Political support for animal advocacy has always cut
diagonally across the U.S. political spectrum, and still does.
The same could be said for support of the animal use
industries–but with a difference. Historically, when politically
dominant, both parties have strongly supported animal agriculture,
hunting, trapping, fishing, the fur trade, and animal
experimentation. Both could be expected to do so now. The
difference is that that the animal use industries tend to use
campaign contributions to buy friends among whichever party is
dominant. If neither party is dominant, they have to spend twice as
much money to buy the same influence–and then both parties are
watching to expose politicians whose votes are blatantly for sale.
Politicians with strong pro-animal beliefs are much less
likely to take their positions with campaign funds in mind, in part
because the animal use industries have far more money than pro-animal
Political Action Committees. While pro-animal PACS have increasingly
often demonstrated some ability to help swing close races,
especially at the state and local level, the U.S. political scene is
still far from including pro-animal PACs capable of matching the
national funding clout of the major animal use lobbies. Demographic
patterns indicate that this could change soon, and building strong
pro-animal PACS now is accordingly an essential part of laying the
political foundation for longterm future success, but achieving
near-term political success for animals requires tactical astuteness
as well as muscle-flexing.
Both the Republicans and Democrats presently include many
strong elected voices for animals, in Congress and at other levels
of government, whose opportunity for advancing legislation tends to
be best when neither party is able to push through a strictly
partisan agenda. When one party or the other has unquestioned
political dominance, working on bipartisan measures tends to take a
low priority, and is even seen as suspect by the idealogues of the
dominant party. Conversely, in a “gridlock” situation, the most
effective politicians are those who can work with their political
opponents. Pro-animal legislation tends to be among the projects
used to build bipartisan coalitions in divided legislatures,
advancing most successfully when the animal use industries are most
stretched, and most at risk of alienating key politicians if they
give too much to members of either party.
ANIMAL PEOPLE, as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is
not allowed to endorse specific candidates or political parties, or
promote specific legislation, but there are now many pro-animal
organizations established and structured specifically to do political
analysis and make recommendations. Among the best-known are the
League of Humane Voters, in New York City; PAW-PAC in California;
HEAL-PAC in Michigan; and Humane Heart in Louisiana. Some states
have several such organizations–and they do not always agree.
Humane USA PAC also has state affiliates that make candidate
recommendations. Most of these organizations post their endorsements
on a web site. An informed pro-animal voter will find out who they
support, and why, before going to the polls.
An informed and effective pro-animal voter will also be aware
that people who care about animals need not vote as a block to
develop clout. Rather, people who care about animals will develop
clout if they reliably turn out in force on election day, year after
year, to vote as their consciences and understanding of the issues
suggests–and make candidates aware of the issues that move them,
both before and after each election.
Who a person votes for is less important than explaining to
the candidate why he/she got the vote. If animal advocates vote for
someone but the someone isn’t aware of having the support, the vote
has much less influence.
Informing losing candidates why they lost votes is also
worthwhile, especially before elections so that they have a chance
to amend their positions, but also afterward. The actual candidate
may never run for office again–or may come back with a different
platform. The person most likely to be influenced, however, is the
campaign manager. Campaign managers often are hired professionals,
who represent many candidates over the years, and often they learn
their jobs by representing losing candidates. Influencing a young
campaign manager who made a good showing on the losing side may at
times be more valuable, eventually, than influencing a winning
candidate whose term is brief.
Be aware that officeholders belonging to minority political
parties tend to be less besieged by favor-seekers and are therefore
often more accessible than members of the majority party, and may
gain influence later as their parties rise. Establishing positive
relations with an officeholder of relatively little clout now may
become a ticket to great influence within a few years, especially if
your encouragement helps the officeholder to advance to higher office.
Animal advocates need to be especially aware and involved at
the state and local levels, as National Institute for Animal
Advocacy founder Julie Lewin emphasizes at every opportunity,
because the structure of government in the U.S.–and in most
nations–delegates almost all authority over animal control,
regulation of animal care, and enforcement of humane laws to state
and local governments. Even in nations such as India, with
relatively strong federal legislation governing animal issues,
enforcement is largely left to local implementation, with
considerable leeway for how laws are interpreted and applied. In the
U.S., with 50 different state laws and more than 20,000 different
local animal care-and-control ordinances, animal advocates must
develop a strong local voice in order to influence the most basic
Developing a strong local voice is self-amplifying. Local
elections are the minor leagues for political advancement, where
rising politicians typically get their start, and local issues tend
to be echoed from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Thus if one
community is especially successful in responding to an animal-related
issue, others will tend to follow, and politicians rising from that
community will tend to raise the profile of the solutions they found.
Further, they will recognize in animal issues an opportunity to
demonstrate effective leadership.
The careers of longtime California state assembly member Loni
Hancock and Congressional Representative Ronald Dellums afford cases
in point. More than 35 years ago the Editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE covered
their election to the Berkeley City Council. Neither was elected on
a pro-animal platform; neither was known as an animal advocate.
Both were deeplly frustrated in pursuing their first political goals,
but in 1972 they enjoyed a rare success in abolishing the use of
decompression to kill animals at the Berkeley city shelter.
Decompression was then the most common means of animal
control killing. By 1985 it was no longer done anywhere in the
U.S.–and Hancock and Dellums, throughout the remainder of their
30-odd-year political careers, avidly promoted pro-animal
legislation and public hearings on animal issues.
People who care about animals and vote tend to be moved by a
wide spectrum of issues, unlike gun owners, for instance, who are
notorious single-issue voters. Thinking about a variety of issues
and voting based on a complex analysis of multiple factors is
worthwhile, especially in a closely contested election, because
this is practically the definition of a “swing” voter, whom either
candidate can attract. Usually candidates assess far in advance
which way most of the single-issue voters will go, and try to keep
them happy while reaching out to as many swing voters as possible.
Thus, while single-issue voters weigh heavily in the decisions of
entrenched incumbents, swing voters may possess greater leverage in
tight races–if they use it. This, again, requires informing
candidates and campaign managers of one’s thoughts, including of
dissenting perspectives on nominally “pro-animal” positions.
Thinking independently–and visibly–about “pro-animal”
positions and endorsements is worthwhile, not least because animal
advocacy group perspectives can at times be self-defeating.
A recent example may have been the passage of a California
bill to criminalize leaving pets unattended in vehicles in weather
that puts the animals’ health at risk. Specific exemptions for
“horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, poultry, or other agricultural
animals” may have resulted in a net loss for animals, as Animal
Switchboard president Virginia Handley unsuccessfully pointed out,
in her capacity as the senior humane lobbyist in California.
Across the U.S., attempts to ban or overturn breed-specific
dog laws are supported by many humane organizations, but–as ANIMAL
PEOPLE editorially pointed out in January/February 2004 and December
2005–may be completely against the best interest of dogs,
especially pit bull terriers, the breed most often targeted. Pit
bulls now make up more than a fourth of all dogs in U.S. shelters and
have a 90%-plus euthanasia rate, because they more than any other
dog are bred and sold as disposable commodities. Stopping the
killing, and the dogfighting industry that thrives on cheap,
abundant pit bulls, requires cutting off the supply of the only
breed type ever widely used in dogfighting. Laws that restrict or
prohibit commerce in pit bulls need not result in the deaths of any
dogs who are already born, or cause anyone to give up a pet; such
laws merely take the money out of breeding more of them.
Initiatives seeking to increase tax funding of wildlife
agencies also require a second look. Such initiatives tend to be
pro-animal only if the net effect is to transfer influence over
wildlife policy away from hunters and other “blood sports”
Candidate by candidate, bill by bill, voting effectively to
help animals requires making judgement calls. Pro-animal people may
come down on either side of a decision, depending on their personal
assessments–but either way, they have more clout if candidates and
news media know that the animal issues were involved and decisive in
bringing a voter to the polls.