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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Shakeup in the Chesapeake

When the early returns trickled in last night in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, it was clear that Senators Barack Obama and John McCain would sweep the Potomac Primary. But there were a couple other Chesapeake Challenges that captured my attention all night long, and weren’t settled until early this morning. Two of Maryland’s members of Congress, Republican Wayne Gilchrest and Democrat Al Wynn, were edged out by rivals in their primary fights, and it may be the first sign of an anti-incumbent wave across the country.

427pxwayne_gilchrest_of_maryland_ofThe Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Wayne Gilchrest in the Republican primary for Maryland’s 1st Congressional District, and had sent mail to thousands of Republican voters letting them know that Gilchrest has stood up for the humane treatment of animals in a very determined way. During his time in Congress, he co-sponsored and supported dozens of bills to protect animals, including those to toughen penalties for animal fighting, stop horse slaughter, require truthful labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, protect pets in disasters, crack down on abusive puppy mills, halt the trade in bear parts, and stop the trophy hunting of captive exotic animals.

Gilchrest lost by just 8,000 votes to Andy Harris, who in contrast has been an enemy of animal welfare. In the Maryland state Senate, Harris has continuously opposed common-sense measures to protect pets, wildlife, and farm animals. He cast his vote against bills to ban the cruel confinement of farm animals in tiny gestation crates on industrial factory farms, restrict the continued chaining and tethering of dogs outside, allow people to establish trust funds to provide lifetime care for their companion animals, and stop the use of steel-jawed leghold traps that kill and injure wildlife and family pets. Remarkably, he was even one of a handful of state lawmakers across the country who opposed legislation to ban Internet hunting, the shooting of live animals remotely from a home computer. Harris will now face off against the Democratic victor, State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil, in the general election this November.

Gilchrest had never been a 100 percent supporter of animal welfare, but he had been on the side of animals most of the time. One of our guiding principles at HSLF is that our endorsements are not about orthodoxy, but rather are about choosing the best candidate among those who are viable in any particular contest. We consider the composition of the candidate’s district, a legislator’s committee assignments or leadership on an issue, and many other factors. But as a threshold matter, we’d take a 60 or 70 percent over a zero any day of the week. As a senior Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Gilchrest had been in a position to make a meaningful impact on environmental and wildlife protection policy, and we are grateful for all his efforts on behalf of animals.

Donna_edwards_2 In Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, the race was not as close, and Al Wynn lost to nonprofit executive Donna Edwards by 22,000 votes. Rep. Wynn has also been a strong supporter of animal protection, consistently scoring a perfect 100 percent on the Humane Scorecard, though he has not been a leader on any of our issues. In this heavily Democratic district, Edwards is almost assured of winning the general election in November and being newly elected to the 111th Congress.  She has an outstanding record on environmental protection issues, and we expect her also to be a stalwart supporter of animal protection.  In fact, we hope she'll be a leader on our issues, more so than Rep. Wynn has been.

Animal advocates should continue to watch these primary battles closely, especially in districts that are solid Democratic or Republican districts.  In those districts, all the action is in the primary, and a small number of voters typically exert enormous influence on the outcomes.

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