Scott DesJarlais, the Republican Congressman from Jasper who tonight will be feted with a gala reception by “The Big Lick” crowd at the 74th Annual National Walking Horse Celebration, is apparently no friend to animals. It has been learned that last month DesJarlais unexplainably voted against a bill in Congress that would enhance the current federal anti-animal fighting laws.
Never mind that the infamous Michael Vick dogfighting case in 2008 spawned national outrage, resulting in a sharp-toothed felony for possession and/or training fighting animals, and forget that 208 members of Congress just co-sponsored the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011 – what is alarming is that the Jasper physician voted against making it a crime to willfully attend a chicken or a dog fight.
Animal rights activists believe that prosecuting spectators at “blood sport” events will greatly reduce the number who atttend the now-outlawed fights -- eliminate the crowds and soon the admission revenue, the betting and even the participation dries up. Under the proposed law, spectators would be charged with misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in prison.
But DesJarlais, who is in his first term, raised considerable eyebrows when he voted against the bill in July and now, as he is honored with a reception at the much-maligned Walking Horse Celebration tonight, there are those who are taking an increasingly hard look at the Conservative who moved to Tennessee after studying medicine in South Dakota.
Tonight’s reception for DesJarlais at the Shelbyville arena offers three tiers of stewarding to the Congressman’s campaign. A Patron will give $2,500, a Host is $1,000 and a door invitation is $250. The reception is being given by David Howard, who is identified as the kingpin of “The Big Lick” crowd, and his son.
“The Big Lick,” which came to light when a shocking video was shown in May of former Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell brutally beating and abusing animals, has been under constant fire from an enraged public and, while it is believed that 98 percent of those who own and love Tennessee Walking Horses neither sore nor torture the animals, the high-stepping gait that scurrilous trainers sinisterly develop has been found to be unnatural and – in a better word – criminal over the summer.
The 74th annual Celebration, which began its 11-day run yesterday, is under an intense microscope this week and the Shelbyville insiders are so eager to put a happy face on the festivities they instituted unprecedented swab tests and public reporting of violations just days ago. The hasty decision has rocked the horse industry with more questions than answers – What’s outlawed? Who does the testing? Where is the lab? Who decides the fine? Where is due process?
According to many who had planned to show, the swabbing initiatives are ill-defined and the fear of getting caught or mistakenly maligned – plus the heavy presence of both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States – has made every horseman in the tiny Tennessee town nervous and leery. Public perception, understandably, is at an all-time low and many owners of Walkers are already abandoning the “stacks” and performance devices in favor of showing only flat-shod horses.
So the question of the hour in Shelbyville is why is Congressman DesJarlais aligning himself with the quite controversial “Big Lick” crowd? Yes, as the representative in the state’s 4th District he depends on Shelbyville for votes but David Howard has told his followers that DesJarlais has already approached the USDA on behalf of the “Big Lick” crowd.
Ironically, one Shelbyville group known as SHOW has a lawsuit pending in a Texas court against the USDA and DesJarlais, in a recent letter that he wrote to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack (which also appeared on the Walking Horse Chat website Wednesday), said he didn’t want to talk about the litigation but, instead, was more keen on “fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the USDA and the industry to ensure a successful ‘Celebration’ in Shelbyville is my chief concern.”
DesJarlais then wrote: “However, a few recent USDA actions have concerned me and my constituents. Some, but not all, are listed below:
* -- Twelve times more violations have been issued than were issued prior to the filing of the lawsuit;
* -- The leading performance (Horse Industry Organization) was notified it would be audited and a day later that audit was rescinded;
* -- A directive was issued to the industry that leaders should not talk to their representatives in Congress about their concerns;
* -- The industry was allegedly told that if it went above the Deputy Administrator’s head, APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) would shut down their world championship event;
* -- The videotaping of USDA inspections was prohibited even though the videotaping is done to ensure that the horses are not sored;
* -- The Industry was informed that the scar rule would now be interpreted differently despite the fact that the law has not changed. When industry representatives asked the USDA officials what had changed and why, they were allegedly told, ‘It’s a new day.’
“Individually, these actions or directives may not seem overtly onerous. Collectively, however, they are unacceptable and create great uncertainty for the industry and this upcoming ‘Celebration,’” wrote the Congressman before affixing his signature.
The “Big Lick” reception for Scott DesJarlais will begin at 5:30 p.m. (CDT) in the Calsconic Conference Room. “Casual attire but no ball caps, please.”