In 2006, Michigan voters rejected the legislature’s plan to allow the target shooting of mourning doves, with 69 percent casting ballots in favor of maintaining the state’s century-long standard of protecting these gentle songbirds. Every county in the state – including the most Republican, rural districts – voted against the idea of dove hunting.
Now, in an effort to block a citizen referendum to maintain protection for wolves – one which garnered 253,000 registered voter signatures within a 70 day period – lawmakers have introduced a bill to give the seven political appointees (dominated by hunters and trappers) at the Natural Resources Commission authority to open up hunting seasons for doves, wolves and any other species they wish. Citizens be damned.
It’s a remarkable subversion of democratic decision-making, and it is an abuse of power, albeit a legal one.
In Tennessee, a different type of power play is at work.
There, one of the biggest stories of 2012 was HSUS’ undercover investigation of a Hall of Fame horse trainer named Jackie McConnell abusing Tennessee walking horses, in order to give him an advantage in the show ring. McConnell bashed horses in the head with a wooden plank, applied caustic chemicals to their feet, and otherwise caused them so much pain that they would exaggerate their gait and win McConnell another ribbon.
Newspapers and horse lovers in Tennessee and throughout the nation expressed deep disgust over the barbaric abuse of horses by McConnell and his assistants, and lauded The HSUS for exposing this sickening abuse.
Yesterday, the Tennessee Senate passed an ag-gag bill to prevent us from ever finding another Jackie McConnell in Tennessee. Rather than crack down on abuse, the legislature is seeking to make it a crime to conduct a long-term investigation of abuse at any farm – for horses, puppy mills, or farm animals.
The state’s largest paper, The Tennessean, wrote today, “It’s clear to anyone to [sic] looks at how the Humane Society videotaped Jackie McConnell’s soring of walking horses, that the case would have unraveled if it had to be rushed, at risk to the safety of the person working undercover. This bill is no more than an attempt to intimidate animal-cruelty opponents.”
The bill’s authors, one an industrial pig farmer and the other a livestock auction owner, say they oppose animal cruelty. But that’s laughable. They’ve both been on the record as opposing the most modest animal welfare reforms. For instance, Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, voted against legislation just two weeks ago that would increase penalties for cockfighting.
The only antidote to this kind of abuse is public participation. No lawmaker or legislature should get away with these manipulations of the fundamentals of a civil society, including First Amendment freedoms and democratic decision-making.