Two weeks ago, the Illinois House of Representatives voted by the narrowest of margins to approve a bill to reverse the state’s 42-year ban on commercial trapping and sport hunting of bobcats and to send that bill, HB 352, to the governor for his consideration. Governor Bruce Rauner, a first-term Republican, can sign or veto the bill any day. The HSUS and major papers in Illinois—including the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun Times, and the Jacksonville Courier-Journal—are urging Rauner to veto the bill, along with the Illinois Environmental Council, Sierra Club Illinois, and a host of other organizations.
In an unusual proceeding, two hours before they approved HB 352, the same set of lawmakers rejected it, coming well short of the total number of votes needed to pass the bill. A group of downstate lawmakers forced a re-vote, and they somehow persuaded nine of their colleagues to switch their votes from “no” to “yes”, giving the bill its reed-thin majority. The flip-floppers are: Representatives Patricia Bellock (R-47), Dan Brady (R-105), Tim Butler (R-87), Jim Durkin (R-82), Jehan Gordon-Booth (D-92), David Leitch (R-73), Michael McAuliffe (R-20), David McSweeney (R-52), and Christine Winger (R-45).
What caused these officials, mainly from the suburbs of Chicago, to turn tail and vote to authorize the killing of bobcats? It could not have been rational argument, because here are actual excerpts from the floor speeches of the leading proponents of HB 352:
“I saw one of these walk across my backyard and I thought I was looking at a saber-toothed tiger.” —Rep. John E. Bradley (D-117)
“I have started finding young fawns, and the only thing I find is a pool of blood in the wheat and their head.” … “The rest of that little young deer is gone. I attribute this to the time that the bobcats came. Bambi is being killed by bobcats.” —Rep. Charles E. Meier (R-108)
“So imagine a bobcat that’s 60 pounds that could attack and kill something 10 times its weight.” … “Think of a small child, or a small woman, or a small boy, that could be attacked and carried away. That’s why we kill these things. That’s why we hunt them.” —Rep. Ed Sullivan (R-51)
If this is the level of discourse typical in the Illinois legislature, and if these statements count as persuasion, then the good state of Illinois is in trouble.
The reality is that bobcats are shy, elusive, and small creatures. They’re generally a little larger than a good-sized house cat, usually weighing about 20 pounds. Most of their diet consists of rodents, though they do kill rabbits and even fawns. Let us remember, that’s what predators do. And that’s what provides balance in nature.
Governor Rauner came into office saying he was going to clean up Illinois. He was going to do what’s right for the state and not be beholden to special interests or participate in backroom deal-making.
He can start right here then. Killing bobcats is not going to make or break Illinois’s budget, reduce its deficit, or solve its pension troubles. But the issue is nonetheless a good, simple test of the basic values of the state. Will Illinois’ leaders choose stewardship or cruelty? And will decisions be made on the basis of bullying and strong-arming, or will there be deliberation and good sense shown in the halls of government?
Governor Rauner is the one man who can take a small and important step for good government and humane values. In the scheme of things, HB 352 is a small concern for the state, but it’s a matter of life or death for hundreds of animals who did nothing to deserve this fate. If Governor Rauner signs the bill, these beautiful animals will know steel traps, packs of dogs, and large-caliber bullets. You can see the effects of that here.
Call Governor Rauner today, and tell him to veto HB 352. Let him know that that bobcats don’t deserve this barbaric treatment.