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September 14, 2007

Special Interests Spar with Animals in California

There is stench emanating from the political waters of California. It's the worst kind of foul rot from special interests. It corrodes the political process, and we just cannot stand for it.

The two culprits—each driving its separate agendas—are the selfish animal haters at the National Rifle Association, and the athletic shoe company Adidas.

First, the thugs at the NRA. The gun lobby has been having a hissy fit over efforts to restrict sport hunters from using lead ammunition in areas populated by the highly endangered California condor. The carrion-feeding birds—only 70 are left in the wild in all of California—survive by picking apart the carcasses of wild animals, including those shot by hunters and not retrieved. They unwittingly ingest lead shot and they die.

Flying California condor
© USFWS
A California condor.

California Assemblyman Pedro Nava (D-35th) introduced a bill, Assembly Bill 821, to ban hunters from using lead ammunition in areas populated by endangered condors. The bill was approved by both chambers in a near party-line vote—with Democrats siding with Nava and animal groups, and Republicans aligning with the NRA.

Now a parallel drama has developed. One Fish and Game Commissioner, R. Judd Hanna—appointed to the five-member commission by Governor Schwarzenegger in February—has come out in favor of banning lead ammunition and urged hunters to shift to the use of copper and other non-lead alternatives instead (waterfowl hunters had to stop using lead shot years ago, and made the switch to non-toxic shot without difficulty). In response, 34 Republican state lawmakers—with their strings pulled by the puppeteers at the NRA—wrote to Schwarzenegger and demanded that Hanna be removed. Unbelievably, the Governor has called on him to resign and Hanna did in fact resign yesterday!

Let's get this straight. The Governor has asked Hanna—appointed to be a protector of fish and wildlife populations in the state—to resign because he wants to stop the poisoning of California condors. He is asked to resign because he does not blindly adhere to the orthodoxy of the NRA and its condor-killing ways. Think of it this way, American businesses are recalling toys produced in China because they contain traces of lead. But in California, we're supposed to sit still while the NRA loonies go blasting lead by the bushel basket into the wildlife food chain?

I am thunderstruck by this action. Why don't we place five mannequins in the seats at the Fish and Game Commission and just play tapes of NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre railing against gun melters and anti-hunting extremists with the racket of semi-automatic weapons blaring in the background. I cannot express the depth of my disgust and disappointment.

Assemblyman Nava has it exactly right. "I think what it says to other Fish and Game commissioners is if they don't toe the [National Rifle Assn.] line, their jobs are in jeopardy," Nava told the Los Angeles Times in today's paper. "If this is all it takes to change the composition of the Fish and Game Commission, there's more stability in the Iraqi legislature." 

It obviously does not bode well for Nava's bill, which is sitting on the Governor's desk and can become law only with his signature. Pity the poor, beleaguered condors.

HSUS kangaroo leather ad in Sacramento BeeThe other bill, and the other stench, relates to kangaroos—a species not native to California. Today, The HSUS has a full-page advertisement in the Sacramento Bee urging the Governor to veto a bill, S.B. 880, that seeks to overturn a ban on the sale of kangaroo leather in California—imposed 37 years ago by then Governor Ronald Reagan. Adidas wants to sell shoes with kangaroo leather and has mounted a massive lobbying effort to overturn the ban. Mind you, there's no grassroots clamor for selling kangaroo skins in California. It's just one company and its money and influence. Somehow, this one wealthy company got the legislature to go along with its special interest plans, and this reeks, too.

There are viable synthetic alternatives to kangaroo leather, and that's precisely what soccer star David Beckham wears when he plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. My colleague Michael Markarian had a great op-ed in the Los Angeles Times on the subject on Wednesday. Take a look if you have a moment.

Today is the day to protest in Sacramento, to write a letter to the editor, to call your state lawmakers in California, and, most importantly, to call and email the Governor—urging him to veto the kangaroo bill and to sign the bill to ban lead shot. While he's at it, the Governor should also reinstate Judd Hanna.  Hanna did his job as a public servant, and the Governor should understand that as well as anyone.

Something smells rotten in California, and only the people of the state can clear the air.

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