Commentary: Why don’t Republicans vote for animals?

While presumably looking for money, the Humane Society of the United States’ lobbying arm, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, issued its midterm report for the 114th Congress and sent a copy to me, among others, I am sure!

Moved by a cover photograph of what appeared to be a tick-ridden lamb, I thumbed through the 16-page publication, 12 of which held little initial appeal since they were statistical tables covering humane voting records of each member of Congress. Perhaps it was the cold weather that has kept most of us indoors that caused me to take a second, then a third look, at the statistics, resulting in a full afternoon’s browse. By day’s end, I asked my wife:  “Why is it that most – and I do mean most – Republican politicians do not like animals?”

I  worked as press secretary in the 1970s for U.S. Sen. Hiram L. Fong, R-Hawaii. I don’t recall him expressing antipathy toward animals in his votes or personally. I have friends in area counties who vote Republican: most of them own animals. Yet their elected representatives, according to the Legislative Fund, display little or no empathy for animals in their voting records.

Take U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia-6, for example. When he bothered to record a vote (three of 10 opportunities), he voted against animal welfare all three times, sharing a big fat zero on the LegislativeFund scorecard along with Republican colleague Robert Hurt, R-Virginia-5, . Meanwhile, Don Beyer, D-Virginia-8, Gerald Connolly, D-Virginia-11, and Bobby Scott, D-Virginia-3, were scored at 100, Beyer earned an asterisk against his mark for taking pro-animal positions on nine scored items and earning extra credit for leading on animal protection issues in the House.

Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz earned a zero for the only two animal protection measures he chose to vote on. Sen. Marco Rubio also got a zero, but the chart indicates he failed to show for any of the votes of record. No surprise there!  Bernie Sanders of Vermont, one of the two Democrats running for president, scored 86. No record for former Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner (86) was the prime sponsor of a bill to amend existing federal law to crack down on the cruel practice of deliberately “soring” Tennessee walking horses; Sen. Tim Kaine, who supported Kaine on the soring issue, scored a 57 with his four affirmative votes, including one that would help save the endangered prairie chicken.

Despite the above, and the fact that our own Republican representatives in Virginia pretty much reflected the votes of Republicans nationwide, according to Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, 2015 turned out overall to be a good year for animal protection, particularly since an omnibus funding package – a catch-all measure with pro animal welfare provisions – was signed into law last December, and several other bills made it over the finish line, or have the momentum to do so this year. You wouldn’t know it by the Republican side of the aisle, however.

Congress’s key advances for animals during 2015, according to Markarian’s report, include:

• A demand that the U.S. Department of Agriculture direct its Agriculture Research Service to comply with Animal Welfare Act standards in the wake of abuse and neglect of farm animals at 50 facilities at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska.

• An increase in funds to finance programs at the National Institutes of Health developing alternatives to animal testing for research purposes.

• Horse soring legislation.

• Defeat of riders seeking to undermine the Endangered Species Act and its protections  for various species.

• Rejection of a House Interior Appropriations rider that would have blocked an administration move to reduce trafficking in ivory products and save elephants from illegal poaching.

• An amendment allowing Amtrak to develop a program allowing passengers to carry their pet cats and dogs aboard certain trains.

• Legislative proposals that would make it harder for domestic abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets.

• Passage of the FY2016 omnibus funding bill that contained a broad range of humane concerns and excluded other provisions that would have been detrimental to animals.

So, my question remains: what is it that causes Republican politicians to ignore or generally oppose animal welfare legislation?
 Malcolm Barr Sr., 82, resides in the Rockland area of Warren County. He is a past president of the Humane Society of Warren County and is owned by two dogs. He was a correspondent for The Associated Press, a press secretary in the U.S. Senate, and worked as a reporter or editor with newspapers in three countries.