Republican businessman John Cox, a challenger to California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in a possible fall recall election ― provoked an outcry on Tuesday when he brought a 1,000-pound bear to a campaign event.
“We’re going to need big, beastly changes to be made in the state,” Cox told supporters at Sacramento’s Miller Regional Park as the Kodiak bear named Tag meandered around behind him, separated from Cox only by an electrified wire. Tag reportedly was bred in captivity and has appeared in movies.
Animal rights group PETA condemned the stunt as “shameful.”
“Wild animals must be left alone, not confined to a pen & wheeled out for events,” the organization tweeted. “They’re not props.”
“This bear is not your prop to capitalize on,” political advocacy group Social Compassion in Legislation wrote on Twitter:
Darren Minier, assistant director of animal care at the Oakland Zoo, condemned the campaign’s use of the bear as exploitative and unsafe, telling ABC 7 News “there’s nothing natural about this.”
“When people go to Tahoe or national parks and see a bear, we don’t want them taking selfies with them,” Minier said. “It’s these types of publicity stunts that really erode people’s abilities to understand how to interact safely with these animals.”
Cox lost to Newsom in a landslide in the 2018 governor’s election. This time around, Cox is attempting to style himself via campaign ads as the “beast” alternative to Newsom’s “beauty.”
The bear stunt was part of Cox’s three-day, six-city “Meat The Beast” tour. It’s unclear if the animal will join him at future stops.