In the spring of 2012 I wrote a story about a heinous lout named Jackie McConnell who I found out was coming to Chattanooga. Jackie had just “starred” in undercover tape that was shown around the world of him savagely beating a Tennessee Walking Horse with a 2-by-4 board and sadistically “soring” the animals so the resulting pain would make the horse do an unnatural dance called the “Big Lick.” Remember Jackie’s debut on “Night Line?”
Now I learn Chattanooga will be visited this Saturday by a woman who I believe might be even worse.
First, some background: Jackie, a Hall of Fame horse trainer from Collierville, was fined $75,000 and sentenced to three years suspended in Federal Court here and morphed into the impetus for legislation in the last session of Congress called the PAST Act.
The proposed “Prevent All Soring Tactics” bills in the House and the Senate were very popular. In the House a majority of 307 out of 435 members co-sponsored it. In the Senate there was another majority, 59 of 100 Senators duly co-sponsoring it.
While it is not my attention to bring doubt to the political process, I personally believe there is the possibility the “Big Lick,” a small but powerful segment of the Walking Horse community, may well have arranged something of “a fix.” Further, any effort to eradicate the rampant horse abuse, now or in the future, will never pass if the “Big Lick” has its way.
A revealing research project is now bringing these concerns sharply into focus. It has been found that identifiable members of the “Big Lick” have already sent thousands of dollars in pointed donations to select politicians and successfully thwarted legislation that would do away with unnatural pads, pressure shoes, action devices and the sickening art of soring.
Get this. With 307 representatives out of 435 as co-sponsors, common logic would show the PAST Act would have easily passed in the House. But eight Republican members of Tennessee’s House delegation refused to endorse the PAST Act, instead aligning with a toothless bill sponsored by Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin). What’s more, Marsha made a great show vocally opposing the PAST Act in the hallowed halls of Congress during the last session.
As you wonder why – who would want to sore horses? – the ongoing research project has now found that easily-identified “Big Lickers,” including many past violators of the federal Horse Protection Act, donated at least $30,450 in 2013 alone to Rep. Blackburn’s re-election campaign and, in the same year, the “Big Lick” sponsored a reception in her re-election bid that allegedly added an additional $32,000.
It is a $64,000 question, if you’ll pardon the pun, if such lavish giving influenced her sponsorship of an opposite “watered down” bill. At the same time, the good and noble Walking Horse crowd, who openly cringes over what the “Big Lick” has done to defile the breed, now believes that Marsha Blackburn’s open defiance of soring reform has caused her to be widely-regarded as the Big Lick’s “Calendar Girl.”
The same Marsha Blackburn will be the featured speaker at this Saturday’s breakfast gathering of the National Pachyderm Convention in Chattanooga. The luncheon speaker will be Senator Lamar Alexander, who has accepted tens of thousands of dollars for years from the “Big Lick.” My goodness, the head of the “Big Lick” is Steven B. Smith, who is Senator Alexander’s state campaign chairman, and Alexander is prominent in the research of “Big Lick” patrons.
The project shows that every current Republican Representative and Senator has accepted a stunning amount of money from an “inner circle” of about 60 known “Big Lickers.” For example, in 2013 David L. Howard – the head of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration -- gave “Friends of Scott DesJarlais” $2,600 on Feb. 2 and $1,000 on Sept. 21. His wife Mary gave DesJarlais $2,600 on April 27, and his son Jeffery gave DesJarlais $1,000 on Sept. 21. That’s $6,200 from one family in one year! (For the record, the Howards gave Marsha Blackburn a total of $3,000 in 2013.)
There is some speculation that such large donations may be the reason that Tennessee, the hotbed of soring, didn’t have one state Pachyderm-type sponsor the PAST Act, which would be a dilly of a cocktail topic at the national convention. I mean, every other state was represented by the GOP in the last Congress.
Another revelation in the early phases of the study that matches known Big Lickers to public contribution records is that, in the last campaign cycle, there is at least $15,000 in identifiable donations by “Big Lickers” to either “Boehner for Speaker” or “Friends of John Boehner.” Why would the “Big Lickers” be so active in an Ohio Representative’s campaign?
Just this. Despite 307 members of the 435-member House co-sponsoring of the PAST Act, Rep. Boehner, a.k.a. The Speaker of the House, never called for the bill before the close of the last session of Congress, this despite many alleged requests. That way the bill died for lack of a vote. Can you imagine such a thing in this day and time?
In the Senate, it is believed the Big Lick’s two biggest advocates in Washington, Senator Alexander and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), immediately squelched the PAST Act – never mind that a majority of the nation’s Senators (59 of 100) were co-sponsors of the bill. Is this all a game?
McConnell is, by far, the Big Lick’s largest check-endorser. He once threatened to withdraw funding of the USDA unless their judges lightened up at horse shows. There is a letter to prove it. There is also a letter from DesJarlais to the USDA, written in August of 2012, claiming USDA inspections of “Big Lick” horses were “unacceptable and create a great uncertainty for the industry and the upcoming Celebration.” (Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.)
One more thing. With Boehner guarding the House and Alexander and McConnell double-teaming the Senate, the nation’s Congress and Senate can renew the PAST Act bills until the Second Coming but, in the end, such skillful political maneuvering will never allow the badly-needed legislation to ever pass.
I believe some ethics committee, or some investigative team at the Washington Post, the New York Times, or the Cleveland (Tenn.) Daily Banner, for Pete’s sake, could have a field day with the names, the dates, the amount of donations, and the politicians who gleefully accepted such symbolic gifts in the name of public trust.
But as for now, I am just thankful our newest “Delilah” doesn’t have to shave before Saturday’s breakfast at the National Pachyderm Conversion; else she would have to look in a mirror.