One of the guiding principles of the Humane Society Legislative Fund is that we evaluate candidates based on a single criterion: where they stand on animal protection policies. We don’t make decisions based on party affiliation, or any other social issue, or even how many pets they have. We care about their views and actions on the major policy debates relating to animal welfare.
It stirs controversy to get involved in candidate elections. But we believe that candidates for office and current lawmakers must be held accountable, or they will see the animal protection movement as a largely irrelevant political constituency. In order to have good laws, we need good lawmakers, and involvement in elections is an essential strategy for any serious social movement, including our cause.
While we’ve endorsed hundreds of congressional candidates for election, both Democrats and Republicans, WE’VE NEVER BEFORE ENDORSED A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE. We have members on the left, in the center, and on the right, and we knew it could be controversial to choose either party’s candidate for the top office in the nation. But in an era of sweeping presidential power, we must weigh in on this most important political race in the country. Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option for us.
I’m proud to announce today that the HSLF board of directors — which is comprised of both Democrats and Republicans — has voted unanimously to endorse Barack Obama for President. The Obama-Biden ticket is the better choice on animal protection, and we urge all voters who care about the humane treatment of animals, no matter what their party affiliation, to vote for them.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has been a solid supporter of animal protection at both the state and federal levels. As an Illinois state senator, he backed at least a dozen animal protection laws, including those to strengthen the penalties for animal cruelty, to help animal shelters, to promote spaying and neutering, and to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. In the U.S. Senate, he has consistently co-sponsored multiple bills to combat animal fighting and horse slaughter, and has supported efforts to increase funding for adequate enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal laws to combat animal fighting and puppy mills.
In his response to the HSLF questionnaire, he pledged support for nearly every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and said he will work with executive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior to make their policies more humane. He wrote of the important role animals play in our lives, as companions in our homes, as wildlife in their own environments, and as service animals working with law enforcement and assisting persons with disabilities. He also commented on the broader links between animal cruelty and violence in society.
Obama has even on occasion highlighted animal protection issues on the campaign trail, and has spoken publicly about his support for animal protection. In reaction to the investigation showing the abuse of sick and crippled cows which earlier this year led to the largest meat recall in U.S. history, he issued a statement saying “that the mistreatment of downed cows is unacceptable and poses a serious threat to public health.” He is featured in Jana Kohl’s book about puppy mills, A Rare Breed of Love, with a photo of Obama holding Baby (shown above), the three-legged poodle rescued from an abusive puppy mill operation, and his political mentor, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), is the author of the latest federal bill to crack down on puppy mills.
Importantly, Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) has been a stalwart friend of animal welfare advocates in the Senate, and has received high marks year after year on the Humane Scorecard. Biden has not only supported animal protection legislation during his career, but has also led the fight on important issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully passed the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On the Republican ticket, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has also supported some animal protection bills in Congress, but has been inattentive or opposed to others. He has voted for and co-sponsored legislation to stop horse slaughter, and voted to eliminate a $2 million subsidy for the luxury fur coat industry. But he has largely been absent on other issues, and has failed to co-sponsor a large number of priority bills or sign onto animal protection letters that have had broad support in the Senate.
The McCain campaign did not fill out the HSLF presidential questionnaire, and has also not issued any public statements on animal welfare issues. He was silent during the downed animal scandal and beef recall, which played out during a high-point in the primary fight. Yet he did speak at the NRA convention earlier this year, and is the keynote speaker this weekend in Columbus, Ohio, at the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance rally—an extremist organization that defends the trophy hunting of threatened polar bears and captive shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens.
While McCain’s positions on animal protection have been lukewarm, his choice of running mate cemented our decision to oppose his ticket. Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R-Alaska) retrograde policies on animal welfare and conservation have led to an all-out war on Alaska’s wolves and other creatures. Her record is so extreme that she has perhaps done more harm to animals than any other current governor in the United States.
Palin engineered a campaign of shooting predators from airplanes and helicopters, in order to artificially boost the populations of moose and caribou for trophy hunters. She offered a $150 bounty for the left foreleg of each dead wolf as an economic incentive for pilots and aerial gunners to kill more of the animals, even though Alaska voters had twice approved a ban on the practice. This year, the issue was up again for a vote of the people, and Palin led the fight against it — in fact, she helped to spend $400,000 of public funds to defeat the initiative.
What’s more, when the Bush Administration announced its decision to list the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, Palin filed a lawsuit to reverse that decision. She said it’s the “wrong move” to protect polar bears, even though their habitat is shrinking and ice floes are vanishing due to global warming.
The choice for animals is especially clear now that Palin is in the mix. If Palin is put in a position to succeed McCain, it could mean rolling back decades of progress on animal issues.
Voters who care about protecting wildlife from inhumane and unsporting abuses, enforcing the laws that combat large-scale cruelties like dogfighting and puppy mills, providing humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and addressing other challenges that face animals in our nation, must become active over the next six weeks to elect a president and vice president who share our values. Please spread the word, and tell friends and family members that an honest assessment of the records of the two presidential tickets leads to the inescapable conclusion that Obama-Biden is the choice for humane-minded voters.