Roy Exum: AgGag Sponsor Goes Ballistic

Sunday, April 28, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

State legislator Andy Holt (Dresden-R), a pig farmer who sponsored a controversial Ag-Gag bill that was approved in the last session but may be vetoed, showed a colorful stripe after the bill was passed. Governor Bill Haslam is under heavy pressure from across the country to nullify the bill, especially after notorious trainer Larry Wheelon was arrested at his barn in Maryville on Thursday and charged with aggravated animal abuse, but the bill will become law this week if Governor Haslam does not intervene.

Holt, who has drawn heavy criticism, sent a raging email to Kayci McLeod, who works for the Humane Society of the United States, in which the Farm Bureau’s 2012 “Excellence in Agriculture Award” winner ripped the employee after she had sent an email to all legislators asking they help defeat the bill which calls for anyone who does not report animal abuse within 48 hours to be charged with a misdemeanor.

It is widely feared the controversial bill will greatly impede whistleblowers, the news media and animal control efforts, as well as hide large agriculture companies who mistreat animals being processed for food, according to over 100 stories that have been written since the legislation was hastily passed by one vote 10 days ago. In Indiana the legislature just defeated a similar bill.

The Humane Society, which used undercover methods to expose and convict vicious horse trainer Jackie McConnell last year, has railed about the bill’s passage and is spending up to $100,000 in television advertising to beg for the governor’s veto. McLeod’s email to all state legislators read:

* * *

“Have you seen the editorial in the Tennessean today opposing HB 1191, the whistleblower suppression bill intended to cover up animal cruelty?

“The Tennessean editorial board condemns the bill, noting that the “bill would certainly take our state in the wrong direction, toward more senseless violence.”

“We very much hope you’ll agree with the Tennessean and oppose this dangerous bill. Thank you for your time and consideration.”

* * *

Rep. Holt sponsored the bill in the House while Deloris Grisham (R-Somerville) sponsored the bill in the state Senate. It has since been learned that Grisham owns a stockyard and her district includes the farm of felon trainer Jackie McConnell, who infamously starred in an undercover video that shows him beating and abusing animals and has now been seen all over the world. McConnell is still awaiting trial in Grisham’s home town after being charged with 22 counts of animal abuse which was exposed by the video.

Here is what Holt e-mailed to the Humane Society:

* * *

Ms. McLeod,

“I am extremely pleased that we were able to pass HB 1191 today to help protect livestock in Tennessee from suffering months of needless investigation that propagandist groups of radical animal activists, like your fraudulent and reprehensibly disgusting organization of maligned animal abuse profiteering corporatists, who are intent on using animals the same way human-traffickers use 17 year old women.

“You work for a pathetic excuse for an organization and a pathetic group of sensationalists who seek to profit from animal abuse. I am glad, as an aside, that we have limited your preferred fund-raising methods here in the state of Tennessee; a method that I refer to as “tape and rape.” Best wishes for the failure of your organization and it’s true intent.

Andy Holt

State Representative – District 76

Weakley & Northern Carroll Counties

* * *

The fiery Holt also got into a Tweeter fight with singer Carrie Underwood after she angrily tweeted, “Shame on TN lawmakers for passing the Ag Gag bill. If Gov. Bill Haslam signs this, he needs to expect me at his front door. Who's with me?”

Obviously one will not be Holt, who quickly responded, “I would say that Carrie Underwood will stick to singing, I'll stick to lawmaking.”

Underwood countered, “I should stick to singing? Wow...sorry, I'm just a tax paying citizen concerned for the safety of my family.”

* * *

This January Holt and his wife took a week’s vacation from the legislature to go to Hawaii in an all-expenses paid junket by the Farm Bureau after he was given the “Excellence in Agriculture Award” and also presented the keys to a new pickup truck.

One of his constituents called him out on it in a blog called “Blue Girl in a Red State,” where she wrote, “Mr. Holt has returned my call, from Hawaii, answering all of my questions in a typical know-it-all can't be wrong fashion. He kept reiterating the fact that since he is in the majority party in the Legislature, and that he was given blessings from Speaker Harwell to miss this week.

“When I asked about redistricting and other votes this week he said that his vote didn't really matter (not something I want to hear from my Rep) because the minority party would not be getting any changes that they want in terms of redistricting. ...

“Frankly, I don't care who you received blessings from. You were voted in, stupidly in my opinion, by the residents of the 76th and your concern is competing for a 2012 Chevy Silverado or 2012 GMC Sierra as well as fully paid registration for next year's convention in Grand Rapids.”

* * *

Drew Rawlins, who is the director of the State Bureau of Ethics, said Holt can accept gifts from the Farm Bureau as long as he's receiving it because he's a pig farmer and not because the Farm Bureau seeks favor with him as a legislator.

* * *

Larry Wheelon, the Maryville horse trainer who has been charged with one count of aggravated animal cruelty after 19 horses were seized by animal control officers on Thursday, “vociferously denied” any wrongdoing in an exclusive interview with the Maryville Daily Times. “That’s sickening,” he told the newspaper’s Iva Butler. “If those horses were sored, somebody came in the barn the night before (the April 18 raid) and did it.”

Wheelon also said his vet checked the horses while testing for Coggan’s Disease “and they all looked fine.”

Gino Bachman, president and cruelty investigator for the Blount County Society for the Prevention to Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), disagreed, saying that in the initial search by agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “(The horses) were so sore that they would just shake when you touched them,” Bachman told The Horse magazine. “Investigators couldn't finish examining one horse because it was so sore, and one horse laid down in its stall and just moaned.”

Wheelon will appear in Blount County Sessions Court on Tuesday.

* * *

The Humane Society of the United States updated a video explaining horse soring on Friday following the arrest of Wheelon. Be warned – it is quite graphic. Click here to view.

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