New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faces a threat to his brand of "straight talk" and "no nonsense" with the full-blown national controversy over his veto last year of a bill to ban gestation crates, and his apparent recent pledge to an Iowa pork producer to veto a revised version of that bill -- despite an extraordinary level of popular support for the measure in the state he was elected to serve. Last night, New Jersey native Jon Stewart focused on Christie and his inclination to again veto the legislation to ban the use of the two-foot-by-seven-foot immobilizing metal crates. You'll be hard pressed to find a funnier and more cutting deconstruction of political maneuvering and posturing anywhere else on American television.
"My job is to stand up for the people of New Jersey and fight for them and that's what I'm going to do regardless of the politics," Christie says in one clip Stewart played to represent how the governor talks about his approach to policy making. In a second clip, the governor declares that he "always put the people of New Jersey and my oath ahead of petty personal politics."
It's the disconnect between that kind of talk and his actions on the gestation crate issue that's causing the controversy for Christie - a chief executive who has a creditable record of signing pro-animal bills during his tenure, including measures to upgrade the state's anti-cruelty law and to combat horse slaughter and the trade in ivory. Given that support for the gestation crate bill in New Jersey is as close to unanimous as it gets in American politics - with 93 percent of New Jersey voters favoring Senator Ray Lesniak's bill - there's just no compelling reason to veto the bill except for the perceived political assessment of how this issue plays in Iowa. Iowa is the nation's top pig -producing state, with about a fifth of the nation's pigs and an estimated one million sows in extreme confinement in gestation crates. But those numbers should not be confused with popular support, and The HSUS has released a survey that shows Republican caucus-goers are far more inclined to view Christie favorably than unfavorably if he signs the bill.
Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad - who signed legislation to legalize mourning dove hunting after decades of protection for the song birds, signed an ag-gag bill into law two years ago, and is suing to strike down California's ban on the sale of eggs from hens confined in small, barren battery cages - has urged Christie to veto the bill. As the state's top Republican, now entering his sixth term, Branstand's endorsement is one of the most coveted in the state.
In addition to Stewart's riff, the pigs got an additional assist when Jessica Chastain, Stewart's guest last night, was so moved by the gestation crate piece that she started talking about it and how cruel it is to keep the sows in confinement so severe that the animals cannot even turn around.
This morning the gestation crate legislation also got a boost from a major conservative voice for animal protection. Matthew Scully, a speechwriter for six Republican presidents and Republican nominees and a fan of Christie, wrote a 2000-word essay on the crates legislation for the conservative website, National Review Online, noting that "the governor of New Jersey is not a man to be pushed around" by the pork industry, and that he should sign the bill because it's the right thing to do and is in his political interest.
In his critically acclaimed book Dominion, Scully visited a pig factory farm in North Carolina, the second-largest pig -producing state, and that account remains one of the most moving narratives in contemporary writings about animal protection. Scully gave readers a feel for his powerful convictions and his observations in this piece where he calls cruelty as it is, regardless of who and how powerful the perpetrators are:
Living creatures, every bit as intelligent and sensitive as dogs, lie trapped by the millions in a sunless hell of metal and concrete, for years unable to walk or turn around, afforded not even straw to lie on -- because even that little kindness, like giving the pigs extra space, would throw off the miserly economics of the enterprise. All of this, we are emphatically assured, is right and necessary -- not only for the sake of more cost-efficient production, holding down the all-important price of bacon, but also for the benefit of the animals themselves. Does anybody really believe this, even the people who insist that it is true?
You can help stand up for pigs who can't turn around. If you live in New Jersey, contact Gov. Christie's office today. If not, sign our petition to end the use of gestation crates.
This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.