Staying the Course, No Matter the Obstacles

By on November 5, 2014

National, state, and local elections are obvious pivot points in the task of governing, with changes that voters usher in signaling small or large course corrections. With the Republicans’ second wave election in four years – interrupted by the reelection of a Democratic president two years ago – we are likely to see more suspicion about attempts to place limits on the mistreatment of animals. The HSUS and its political affiliate, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, enjoy broad bipartisan support for our values with the broad swath of American voters. But we generally meet with more skepticism from Republican lawmakers, who are critical of some forms of regulatory oversight and in a number of cases are closely allied with our political adversaries at the NRA, the Farm Bureau, and other animal-use industries. Indeed, in the last few years, we’ve seen vigorous efforts to pass so-called “ag-gag” bills and even measures to limit citizen initiative rights, among other forms of obstructionism.

We are big believers in making representative government work, and The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund have helped pass more than 1,000 new laws in the last decade to help animals at the state level. But it was our frustration with both obstinate lawmakers and general gridlock, on some of the tougher reforms that led The HSUS to pursue ballot measures in a vigorous way about a quarter century ago. When legislatures failed to adopt popular reforms, we turned to the initiative and referendum process as a safety valve. Since then, we’ve passed a wide range of measures, outlawing cockfighting, extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, inhumane and unsporting hunting and trapping methods, and other harmful practices in the two dozen or so states that allow reforms through direct democracy.

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Michigan voters soundly rejected the two laws enacted by the legislature proposing hunting season on wolves.

Yesterday, we saw major ballot measure battles on wildlife issues come to a vote in two states. The citizens of Michigan voted by wide margins last night to reject two laws enacted by the legislature proposing a hunting season on wolves. Both measures were expected to be close, but in the end voters soundly rejected Proposal 1 by a vote of 55 to 45 percent, and Proposal 2 by 64 to 36 percent. This means voters not only repealed a wolf hunting statute, but also repealed a measure that transfers authority to the Natural Resources Commission to declare hunting seasons on just about any protected species.

Unfortunately, Question 1 in Maine, which sought to ban the cruel and unsporting practices of bear hounding, baiting, and trapping, suffered a narrow defeat at the polls, by a vote of 52 to 48 percent. It was very difficult to overcome the active involvement and spending by the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which caused so much confusion about the alleged necessity of hunting methods already forbidden in a wide range of bear hunting states. It was an unprecedented infusion of state resources into a political campaign, and that involvement was grounded in fear and scare tactics. Frankly, it was deeply disconcerting to see the hand of government intrude in an election, and something you’d much more likely see in a corrupt, developing nation than in our democracy.

While it’s easy to plot a course of action when you win, it’s tougher to rebound from a loss. Several people have asked me today, what’s next in Maine?

I tell people all the time, that winning is exciting and energizing and it comes with great frequency here at The HSUS. But losing is inevitable and frankly necessary given that effective advocacy requires risk-taking for animal protection. We don’t just take on the easy fights. We take on the toughest challenges, and that means staying the course and never relenting.

There’s almost nothing in our work that comes easily, and very few things come quickly. My colleague Heidi Prescott has been laboring for 25 years to ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. She and The HSUS got within a whisker of prevailing this year. But the pigeon-shooting crowd and every lawmaker must know by now, that we will continue until we succeed. Heidi has my full support in her quest to end live pigeon shoots.

That’s my attitude about trophy hunting of wolves, hounding and trapping of bears, extreme confinement of animals on factory farms, horse slaughter, and every other indignity and form of cruelty that animals endure. If we don’t persist, what future do these animals have?  We are the biggest force for reform, and it’s our duty not only to take risks but to show unusual determination and resolve.

So wave elections come and go, the major parties hand off power to one another, lawmakers try to help at times and at other times, to stand in the way. We are still here, and growing stronger through it all. When you support The HSUS, or take us on, you get effective action, but you are also getting unwavering resolve. No one in any state, after we face a setback, should ever expect us to go away. Join us in these fights, especially when the going is toughest.

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Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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