Coach Barry Switzer gets right to the point. “If SQ 777 passes, it will make it easier for puppy mills to exist. Puppy mill operators will be able to classify themselves as farmers and their animals as livestock,” wrote Switzer, the legendary coach of the University of Oklahoma football team, in a Tulsa World column. The article pans a measure that the legislature has referred to the November ballot, establishing a so-called “right to farm” in the Sooner State.
It’s yet another major boost for the No on 777 campaign, which The HSUS, local animal welfare organizations, the League of Women Voters, the Oklahoma Municipal League, the Oklahoma Council of Churches, and so many other entities have strongly opposed. Oklahoma’s four-term former attorney general, Drew Edmondson, has been traveling the state, warning people about the consequences of enacting this misleading measure. And Switzer’s statement provides yet another reason for voters to check the fine print.
“Puppy mills are atrocities where neglect, disease and abuse is rampant,” wrote Switzer, who with his wife has a pack of German shepherds they adore. “Animals are caged 24-7 and some live their entire lives in wire cages, never once touching or rolling in the grass. Adult dogs are often debarked, which involves ramming a steel rod down their throats to rupture their vocal cords.”
State Question 777 is not only a threat to future regulations of puppy mills; it could also provide a pathway to legalize cockfighting.
The legislature never banned cockfighting. The people did it through a ballot initiative, at the urging of The HSUS, and in almost every session since 2003, there have been attempts to legalize cockfighting by one means or another. If they succeed, and if SQ 777 passes, the legislature may be forbidden, under the terms of SQ 777, from passing a measure to ban it, since raising gamefowl is considered an agricultural activity by the cockfighters and their allies. In short, even if the people of Oklahoma elected a majority of animal friendly lawmakers, SQ 777, as a constitutional amendment, could forbid them from enacting a statute to outlaw cockfighting.
Think it’s a far-fetched scenario that lawmakers could actually repeal the existing anti-cockfighting law? Well that’s what the crew in Oklahoma City has done with several other high-profile animal protection laws. In 2013, state lawmakers repealed a 50-year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption, even though polling showed 80 percent of Oklahomans wanted to keep the ban. And in the prior year, lawmakers gutted an existing statute that imposed a regulatory framework to stop abuses of dogs in puppy mills.
But this is just part of the mayhem that SQ 777 could create. Because SQ 777 seeks to limit many forms of agricultural regulation, it could give a free pass to factory farms to pollute and this gives communities no recourse when they want to protect their water supply, when homeowners want to protect their property values from nauseating smells, and when doctors tell us that lacing the feed of animals with hormones or antibiotics is a dangerous threat to public health. This week, Oklahoma was in the national news because it had its most powerful earthquake in modern times. Seismologists and other experts believe the spate of earthquakes is being caused by fracking and by the release of enormous volumes of water at high pressure into the ground. Imagine if there was a constitutional right to frack and local governments and others could not regulate destructive energy production practices that threatened the very safety and health of the state’s communities?
That’s exactly the leap of faith that the Oklahoma Farm Bureau is asking voters to take by passing SQ 777 – in football parlance, a sort of legislative “quick kick” that the special interest group is trying to get past voters while they are not paying attention. They want to make it much more difficult to regulate any agricultural practice now or forever. Who knows what the problems of tomorrow will be? That’s why government is not a one-time act or event, but a continuing process of assembling and legislating in order to deal with the facts and details as they emerge.
SQ 777 is a power grab by special interests trying to control the state and getting a free pass to do as they want in agriculture. Don’t let them do it. Spread the word that SQ 777 is a dangerous, overreaching measure, just like the coach told us today in the Tulsa World.