The Presidential Files: Who Trumps the Field on Animal Issues in Race for White House?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have put a roadblock in place in New Jersey for the next Walter Palmer-wannabee who wanted to slay a lion and bring his head back to the states. New Jersey lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed legislation to block the shipment of big-game trophies of lions, tigers, leopards, Cape buffalo, elephants, rhinoceros, and other endangered animals through New Jersey ports. Christie, however, sided with the Safari Club International, which called for a veto of the bill.
Sean Pavone/Alamy Photo Stock
The furor over Cecil’s death and the political debates it has inspired provide a powerful reminder that many of the presidential hopefuls, both Republicans and Democrats, have records on animal protection issues, and have taken either positive or adverse actions that we can and should examine. With the first votes to be cast early next week in Iowa and then soon after in New Hampshire, animal advocates of all political persuasions want to know where the candidates stand on humane issues. HSLF has not made any recommendations in the presidential race, but here’s a summary of what we know about the contenders.
First, the Democratic candidates:
Hillary Clinton: During her eight years in the U.S. Senate, Clinton was a strong and consistent supporter of animal protection policies, earning a 100 percent score on the Humane Scorecard in the 108th Congress, a perfect 100+ score in the 109th, and an 83 in the 110th. She cosponsored legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, as well as bills to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and to crack down on abusive puppy mills where dogs are treated like production machines. She led efforts in the 108th and 109th Congresses to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, which allow them to be crammed into overcrowded, stressful, and unsanitary factory farms. As a Senator, Clinton also signed letters requesting more funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. During the 2008 campaign, she voiced concern over the slaughter of sick and injured cows whose meat was channeled into the national school lunch program. As Secretary of State, Clinton led international efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking, and later through the Clinton Foundation, she helped to launch a major campaign to fight the illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants, continuing her leadership on this issue. Earlier, as first lady, she often took Socks the cat along with her to visit children or senior citizens in local hospitals and to other events, and she wrote a children’s book on presidential pets featuring kids’ letters to Socks and the family’s dog, Buddy.
Martin O’Malley: During eight years as governor of Maryland, O’Malley never distinguished himself on animal issues. He generally signed the animal protection bills sent to him by the legislature—on matters such as upgrading the cruelty law, protecting terrapins, setting up a spay and neuter fund, and ending breed discrimination against pit bull type dogs—but he never exhibited leadership or attentiveness on them. He is largely remembered by animal advocates for allowing a trophy hunting season on the small population of bears in western Maryland and never restraining the worst instincts of the state Department of Natural Resources when it came to trophy hunting and commercial trapping.
Bernie Sanders: Like Clinton, Sanders has been a steady and consistent supporter of animal protection during his time in Congress. As a House member, he earned a 58 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 103rd Congress, 75 percent in the 104th, 60 percent in the 108th, and a perfect 100 percent score in both the 106th and 109th Congresses. As a senator, he scored 100 percent in the 110th, 112th, and 113th Congresses, an 89 in the 111th, and an 86 percent in the most recent session. It’s clear that Sanders became more active on animal protection during his congressional career, and his generally high scores attest to that. In the current session of Congress, Sanders is cosponsoring legislation to protect pets in domestic violence, ban horse slaughter for human consumption, create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty, and crack down on horse soring abuses. He supported strong enforcement of federal animal welfare laws, and opposed the weakening of the Endangered Species Act. In previous sessions, Sanders cosponsored bills to crack down on abusive puppy mills and animal fighting, to restrict the private trade in big cats and primates as exotic pets, and to ban barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. He helped to lead the effort in the 111th and 112th Congresses to end the wasteful use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire them to sanctuaries. Sanders was the first presidential candidate to publish an animal welfare statement, and it’s a strong and compelling one that demonstrates his concern for the issues as well as his leadership.
The Republican field is much larger, and one of the candidates who has withdrawn, Sen. Lindsey Graham, had perhaps the strongest record on animal issues among Republicans. He is currently leading efforts in Congress to ban horse slaughter for human consumption and crack down on wildlife trafficking.
Here’s some background on the remaining Republicans in the race:
Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina : Since they have not held public office before, there is not much to point to in terms of their philosophies or policy actions on animal issues. When Trump owned the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, he reportedly was involved in canceling an inhumane horse-diving act. On the down side, he has defended his sons’ trophy hunting of African wildlife, including giraffes, buffaloes, and even lions, and it’s remarkable, especially after the Walter Palmer incident, that the press have not pushed harder on Trump about his sons and their globe-trotting killing sprees for wildlife. Trump also recently lamented Ringling Bros.’ decision to phase out its performing elephants. Fiorina has the backing of millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, who runs an anti-animal Super PAC and has spent lavishly to defend puppy mills, factory farming, and other cruelties; Fiorina did, however, post a video about her love of dogs so that voters could learn something of her personal feelings about animals. Carson has said little about animal welfare issues throughout his career, but he says in interviews that he is mostly vegetarian, and in a 1990 interview with Vegetarian Times he shared his belief that “eventually there will no longer be a reason for most people to eat meat. And animals will breathe a sigh of relief.”
Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio: These sitting U.S. senators have had records consistently at odds with animal protection sensibilities. Rubio and Paul were among a handful of senators who opposed a floor amendment to ban attending and bringing children to animal fights, and Paul wouldn’t talk about the issue even after it became high-profile in the Republican primary in his home state between Mitch McConnell (who supported the amendment to crack down on animal fighting) and Matt Bevin, who attended a pro-cockfighting rally. Rubio and Paul each scored 28 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 112th Congress; Cruz, Paul, and Rubio each received a score of 12 percent for the 113th Congress; all three have zeros for the first session of the 114th Congress. On the positive side, Rubio did cosponsor legislation to strengthen enforcement of the federal law against horse soring in the previous Congress (but has yet to do so in the current session), and when he previously served in the Florida state legislature, he sponsored a successful bill to strengthen the animal fighting statute. On the negative side, Paul is backing an alternative sham reform bill that would maintain the status quo for the horse soring crowd, and it’s basically just him, Sen. McConnell, and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Smith pushing that pro-soring bill. None of these Republican presidential candidates are cosponsoring any current animal protection legislation even though the major bills all have Republican authors.
Jeb Bush: As governor of Florida, Bush signed a number of animal protection bills sent to him by the legislature, but like O’Malley, never distinguished himself as a leader or an advocate in that office. During his tenure, Florida upgraded its laws on animal fighting, horse tripping, dog and cat fur, downer livestock, and pets in disaster planning. On the campaign trail, Bush has floated the idea of relocating the Interior Department to the West, and his Iowa Farm Team includes two past presidents of the National Pork Producers Council who have opposed animal welfare reforms in Congress and in the corporate sector.
Chris Christie: As noted above, Christie recently vetoed legislation to block imports of big-game trophies, although he had previously signed bills to crack down on wildlife trafficking by banning the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, and shark fins. As governor of New Jersey, Christie signed bills upgrading a number of animal protection laws on horse slaughter, animal fighting, pets in disasters, and other issues. He is most remembered, however, for twice vetoing legislation to ban the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in metal gestation crates, which had passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan votes. The issue made national headlines and was largely viewed as a sop to Iowa’s pork industry in light of Christie’s presidential ambitions. Christie has also been a booster of the state’s trophy hunting season for the state’s modest population of bears. In short, Christie’s record is mixed, where he’s taken some very good actions for animals but lined up with special interests like the Farm Bureau and NRA when it’s served his political ambitions. In New Jersey, one of the most pro-animal states in the nation, state lawmakers are pushing a number of reforms toward his office—some politically impossible not to sign because they are so popular, and others that stir the passions of trophy hunters, pork producers, and other animal-use interests he’s been courting in Iowa and elsewhere on the rest of the presidential trail.
Mike Huckabee: As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee sat on the sidelines and was silent during the legislative effort and ballot measure campaign to establish felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty. The policy was enacted after he left office, under the tenure of Gov. Mike Beebe. News reports also questioned Huckabee’s personal involvement in the handling of animal cruelty allegations against his son in 1998.
John Kasich: As governor of Ohio, Kasich acted swiftly in response to the tragic release of dozens of bears, lions, tigers, wolves and other exotic animals in Zanesville, setting a moratorium on the sale of exotic animals and advocating for the state’s first restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wildlife as pets. Kasich has signed other bills sent to him by the Ohio legislature, upgrading the state laws on animal cruelty and puppy mills, and allowing pets to be included in domestic violence protective orders. He came into the governor’s office on the heels of a landmark agreement between The HSUS, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and Gov. Ted Strickland, and he’s generally done a creditable job of handling the provisions—including the phase-out of veal crates for calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and tail-docking of dairy cattle, and protections for “downer” cows—although there is concern that the state has not yet established felony penalties for cockfighting and may allow the expansion of a new battery cage egg-laying facility run by the notorious Hillandale Farms (thereby falling short, so far, on two elements of the eight-point agreement between The HSUS and the Farm Bureau).
Rick Santorum: Of all the Republican candidates still in the race, Santorum was arguably the most active on animal protection issues. He earned a 60 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, and an 80 percent for the 109th. But more importantly, he was the lead sponsor of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS) to crack down on large-scale commercial puppy mills, and held a hearing on the bill when he was the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation. He was also a leader in the Senate urging adequate funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and other animal welfare programs. Santorum cosponsored legislation to establish federal felony penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, cosponsored legislation to require the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of pets, and voted to stop the slaughter of American horses for food exports.
You can help put humane issues in front of all the presidential candidates and make animal protection part of the political discourse. Please join us at ChangePolitics.org, a new, nonpartisan, elections platform that allows you to ask questions about animal protection issues that are important to you, and “upvote” other users’ questions to give them a higher ranking.