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Friday, August 08, 2008

Animal Advocates In, Animal Fighting Advocate Out

Congressional candidates backed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund went two for two in last night’s contested primary races in Tennessee. We congratulate Congressman Steve Cohen who easily won the Democratic primary in the Memphis-based 9th District, and Johnson City Mayor Phil Roe who narrowly edged out first-term Congressman David Davis for the Republican nod in the eastern 1st District.

Cohen won more than 79 percent of the vote, after a contentious primary race. He has a strong record of leadership on animal protection issues, both at the federal and state levels. In Congress, he is the lead author of the Sportsmanship in Hunting Act, which seeks to stop captive trophy hunts of exotic mammals trapped behind fences. He earned a perfect score of 100 on the Humane Scorecard, voting with animals on every issue and cosponsoring a number of bills dealing with animal fighting, horse slaughter, fur labeling, and other subjects. In honor of his leadership on animal protection issues, he received the Legislative Achievement Award from the Tennessee Humane Association in 2006, and the Humane Champion Award from The Humane Society of the United States and HSLF in 2007.

Dogsfighting The Roe-Davis race was a nail-biter, and Roe squeaked by Davis by just 460 votes out of more than 51,000 cast. HSLF had targeted Davis for defeat because he was one of only 39 members of the U.S. Congress who voted against the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act last yeara measure offered by a Republican House member that passed overwhelmingly and upgraded the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting. Davis, however, sided with dogfighting and cockfighting interests, taking a position at odds with animal welfare groups and hundreds of law enforcement agencies. He also voted to allow the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses, to promote the trophy hunting of threatened polar bears, and to continue the trade in dangerous primates as exotic pets.

Phil Roe is an advocate for animal welfare, and he publicly criticized Davis’ vote on the animal fighting legislation. In a move that must have caused heartburn at the Davis campaign headquarters, a cockfighting group called the East Tennessee Gamefowl Breeders Association rallied behind Davis and urged cockfighting enthusiasts to help reelect him. 

ETGBA President Ben J. (Butch) Taylor wrote on a cockfighting website two days before the election, “I beleive with all my heart if we lose David Davis in Washington, your gonna see more and more bills introduced against us and against our Constitutional Rights without too many like David Davis voiceing thier oppostion to these bills as he did in the past” [sic].

This is one of those rare instances where you’ll find me agreeing with cockfighters, outlaws all of them. The voices of bloodsport are vanishing from the halls of government. 

HSLF went head-to-head with the cockfighters and rallied animal advocates in the district, sending email communications to hundreds of Tennessee voters urging them to turn out and vote for Roe. At the end of the day, Davis’ support for animal fightingespecially in the wake of the Michael Vick case in nearby Virginiaand Roe’s support for the humane treatment of animals clearly helped to tip the scales in this tight race. 

Animal fighting has also been a prominent issue in the Tennessee General Assembly. Earlier this year, legislation to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting cleared the Judiciary committees in both the state House and Senate, but did not receive a vote in either chamber’s Finance, Ways and Means committee. Davis’ opposition to stronger penalties for animal fighting cost him much-needed votes, contributing to the unusual defeat of an incumbent in a primary.Cockfighting_2

The FBI shut down two major cockfighting pits in Cocke County (within the 1st Congressional District) in 2005, and unearthed animal cruelty, illegal gambling, prostitution, chop shops, and other criminal behavior. Phil Roe ran a great campaign, but the role that animal fighting played in the race should serve as notice to other legislators that voters want common-sense policies to stop cruelty and abuse, and prefer candidates who support robust penalties for animal fighting crimes.

At the federal level, the handful of lawmakers who joined David Davis on the side of dogfighters and cockfighters may soon follow him back into the private sector. Some like Congressmen Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) and Don Young (R-Alaska) are facing tough primary challengers from their own parties in the coming weeks, and others like Congressman Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) are targeted for defeat in the general election.

The Davis loss is one more lesson for federal and state lawmakers that opposing tough penalties for animal fighting is not only bad policy, but also bad politics. 

This is your HSLF at work, holding lawmakers accountable, taking sides in tough elections, and driving a progressive policy agenda for animal protection.

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