Roy Exum: Fleischmann In A Pinch

Friday, March 21, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Chuck Fleischmann, who is precariously running for a third term as one of Tennessee's nine representatives in Congress, appears to have gotten himself in a not-so-delicate pinch with horse lovers and animal rights advocates in the state’s Third District.

In a recent letter to a constituent concerned about the sadistic torture and abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses, the incumbent from Ooltewah wrote over his signature that the “safety and proper treatment of animals is an issue that is quite close to my heart” and pledged he would “keep your views in mind should (bill HR1518) arrive on the House floor for a vote.”

But it is widely known Fleischmann is one of nine co-sponsors of a competing bill that was introduced in Congress by his colleague, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin), and the difference between the two bills is so distinct that an editorial in the Nashville Tennessee carried the headline, “Rep. Ed Whitfield's walking horse legislation would end soring; Rep. Marsha Blackburn's would enable it.”

According to the Tennessean editorial, the editors wrote, “We can see there is a special brand of inhumanity that thrives among us in Tennessee. By pitting its own alternative legislation, courtesy of Rep. Marsha Blackburn, against the popular “Prevent All Soring Tactics” (PAST) bill, this group demonstrates how determined it is to continue secretly torturing animals. Stronger than a desire for mere show-ring glory, this appears to be about deriving pleasure from causing pain. That it is defenseless animals, and not people, only increases their ability to get away with it.”

Rep. Blackburn, it has been widely reported, was feted by the embattled “Big Lick” crowd in August of 2013 at the National Celebration and allegedly $70,000 was contributed to her campaign. In contrast, 267 members of Congress (a majority) have now endorsed the popular HR1518 bill, sponsored by Kentucky’s Ed Whitfield, and called the PAST Act, while 50 senators have co-sponsored a companion bill.

Blackburn’s bill has nine co-sponsors, including six other Republican members of Congress from Tennessee. It is hardly lost on such groups as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the Humane Society of America that in the one state that is considered the epicenter for horse abuse in the nation, the Republican delegation has mounted a cartel-like effort to stave off reform efforts.

The PAST Act hopes to eliminate the stacks under the front hooves, the chains and the gruesome torture devices that have plagued the walking horse industry for half of a century while Blackburn’s bill, endorsed by the Big Lick faction, would allow the devices that are believed to contribute to the high-stepping, unnatural gait. The PAST Act would heighten inspections by the USDA while Blackburn’s bill would, in essence, allow the Big Lick to police itself.

Fleischmann, currently rated as the lowest-performing Congressional representative from Tennessee by the website, is facing opposition from both Republican and Democratic challengers in the 2014 election. Another Congressman who co-sponsored Blackburn’s bill, Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper), was named among the “most corrupt” members on Congress by after receiving a reception in 2012 similar to Blackburn’s fundraiser. DesJarlais is also facing strong opposition this summer.

Senator Lamar Alexander, up for re-election this year, and Bob Corker are not among those who have co-sponsored the Senate bill (S1408) of the PAST Act. Alexander’s state campaign chairman is Steven B. Smith, who heads the Big Lick’s breed registry, while Corker insists he has not had sufficient time to study the merits of either of the Congressional bills.

A Gallup Poll in December gave the 113th Congress the lowest rating ever for honesty and ethics, a single digit of eight percent, the lowest in the 39 years the pollsters have been conducting measures of public satisfaction.

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