Roy Exum: Congress 261, Tennessee 1

Saturday, February 8, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

It is most despicable and demeaning to me that while now there are 261 members of the United States House of Representatives who are co-sponsors of a pending bill that would greatly hamper horse abuse, there are eight of nine members in Congress from the state of Tennessee who have thus far refused to endorse the same bill. I believe Tennessee’s Republican delegation should sternly be held accountable by the people of Tennessee because to abuse any defenseless animal is very wrong.

House Bill 1518, called the PAST Act or “Prevent All Soring Tactics,” is a much-needed improvement on a federal law passed in 1970 called the Horse Protection Act. In the Senate the pending legislation is known as S1406, yet neither of Tennessee’s two Senators are among 43 other bipartisan Senators from around the country who have currently cosponsored the bill.

I can’t begin to convey my sadness and disappointment in two men I have always believed in – Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker – and they too should be held accountable to those they vowed to represent, the people of Tennessee. It is plainly clear the overwhelming number of citizens of Tennessee abhor animal abuse, much less slathering a horse’s forelegs with a terrifying wrap of mustard oil, acid and other caustic materials, but that both Alexander and Corker are silent is mystifying and tragic.

Let’s face it; Tennessee is the epicenter for horse abuse in the world, not just the United States, and were it not for a pocket of cancer centered in Shelbyville that promotes the sadistic and horrible method called soring to produce an unnatural gait among Tennessee Walking Horses, there would be absolutely no need to encumber our nation’s governing body with such a pointed measure directed at much less than one percent of our country’s horse owners.

Sadly, soring Tennessee Walkers has flourished for a half-century and today’s generation of scofflaws has become so blatant that just in the past two years felony convictions and a pending trial in Maryville have not only sickened the nation but have created such an outcry that Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield and Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen pushed a bill that will not only prosecute those who apply caustic substances to “sore” horses but also prohibit the grotesque stacks, or pads, painful pressure bands, and other so-called “action devices.”

A scurrilous group of Tennessee Walking Horse owners and trainers, collectively known as “Big Lickers” who are centered in Shelbyville, has openly defied the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Humane Society of the United States, and a lengthy list of other equine organizations for years. The “Lickers” are now at the forefront of defiantly opposing the USDA, the American Association of Veterinary Medicine and dozens of similar groups in what is akin to some radical blood-lust group that is roundly reviled by horsemen the world over.

But the Lickers have lobbied the state’s Republican representatives in a sick but effective way, using influence and campaign dollars in a manner that is horrifying in any democracy and loathsome to the majority of Tennesseans who have elected them into office. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin) makes no effort to hide the fact she was feted by the Big Lick in August and was given a reported $70,000 for her campaign coffers. She has since openly opposed the Prevent All Soring Tactics bill and has used her sway in Congressional corridors in an attempt to derail it.

Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) was similarly hosted the year before and notoriously confronted Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on behalf of the Shelbyville crowd, allegedly demanding Vilsack alter the manner his department’s inspectors upheld sanctions at horse shows. DesJarlais was recently named among the “most corrupt” members of Congress by the Citizens for Responsibility of Ethics group, which had cited the ever-contentious Blackburn previously.

But the most worrisome of all allegations is that Steven B. Smith, the state campaign finance chairman in Senator’s Alexander’s current campaign, is also the president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association. Smith has been actually ticketed by the USDA for violating the federal Horse Protection Act and is believed to have considerable influence in the state’s Republican Party.

The current Breeds and Exhibitors board of directors is riddled with previous violators of the Horse Protection Act and its compliance arm, called SHOW, is currently being decertified by the USDA due to persistent violations. Membership has plummeted, down by over 10,000 in the past few years, and a huge group, the Back Country Horsemen of America that represents 13,000 riders, has just left the TWHBEA in disgust.

Tennessee’s Republicans in Congress include Blackburn, DesJarlais, Phil Roe (R-Johnson City), Jimmy Duncan (R-Knoxville), Chuck Fleischmann (R-Chattanooga), Diane Black (R-Gallatin), and Stephen Fincher (R-Frog Jump). Jim Cooper, a Democrat from Knoxville, has also not endorsed the PAST Act.

I believe the people of Tennessee should hold any and all accountable who would promote or allow an animal to be abused. Larry Joe Wheelon, a trainer in Maryville, and three other men are currently awaiting trial for horse abuse. According to eyewitness accounts, animals under Wheelon’s care that were seized could hardly walk. How long must this go on?

For our senators and Congressional representatives to condone horse abuse with their deafening silence and marked inaction is, to me, every bit as inexcusable as the soring that has cursed the state of Tennessee for a half-century. After all, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. (Edmund Burke -- 1729-1797)

Let’s finally put an end to the evil of horse abuse in Tennessee. Or else do away with those who do nothing.

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