|Terry Branstad, Republican governor of Iowa, first took that|
state's highest office in 1983. His mustache has been a
loyal companion ever since.
Of course, there were the highly-publicized union-busting measures that prompted a successful repeal effort in Ohio last fall, ongoing recall campaigns in Wisconsin, and massive protests across the country.
More recently, a spate of localized culture wars over abortion and contraception resulted in a new law in Texas that requires women to undergo a vaginal ultrasound probe before terminating a pregnancy. Virginia almost adopted an identical law, but public opposition forced GOP lawmakers there to eliminate the vaginal probe provision in favor of traditional abdominal ultrasounds.
Throughout it all, a robust blend of xenophobic immigration laws and voter disenfranchisement policies (directed against those who aren't likely to vote for the authors of said legislation) have kept headlines interesting.
There are at least a few commonalities among these laws. First, they were all passed in state legislatures controlled by Republicans. Second, they all garnered significant national media attention. Third, they all prompted public protests large enough to prevent voters from ignoring or forgetting about them.
But a brand-new law in Iowa, signed earlier this week by Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, seems to meet none of the aforementioned criteria, even though it's just as vile as these other pieces of legislation.
Basically, the bill makes it a crime to enter a farming operation under false pretenses to obtain video evidence of animal abuse. Posing as an employee at an agricultural facility and recording instances of livestock being mistreated will soon be a serious misdemeanor in the Hawkeye State.
You're probably thinking (as I immediately did) of recent hot-button documentaries like "Food, Inc.," which scrutinizes the propensity of America's food manufacturers and factory farms to sacrifice ethics and safety for quick, cheap production and massive profits. The film highlights the legal efforts of such companies to stifle criticism of their practices and prevent publication of footage or images that portray inhumane or abusive treatment of animals.
It seems that this new law — the first of its kind in the country — represents a culmination of these efforts. In a state heavily dependent on egg and pork production, you'd better believe that Iowa's politicians are correspondingly financed and influenced by the agriculture industry. In fact, the Associated Press reports that Branstad's endorsement of the legislation "wasn't a surprise" for that very reason. It also notes that the measure passed the state legislature overwhelmingly — by a vote of 40-10 in the Iowa Senate, and 69-28 in the Iowa House.
This is significant because, unlike the states I mentioned earlier, where despicable legislation was implemented at the hands of GOP-dominated legislatures, the Iowa law required bipartisan support. While its House is led by Republicans, its Senate is narrowly controlled by Democrats. Without significant backing from the left side of the aisle, the bill wouldn't have made it to Branstad's desk. If you ever operated under the illusion that the dirty influence of lobbyists and money was unique to either major political party, you should no longer.
|This is what a factory farm looks like. (Photo: U.S.|
Department of Agriculture)
But the bad legislation shouldn't be excused, either. By any rational standard, it's indefensible. It renders animal-rights groups powerless to document and blow the whistle on clear acts of animal cruelty and health and safety violations at farms (which, indeed, they have been doing already). One Democrat who voted for the bill inanely argued that it doesn't prevent legitimate employees from reporting abuse. Surely, the employee wouldn't need to fear losing his job or facing other retribution in such an instance, right? Of course not.
Even worse, this law creates a potentially devastating precedent. It sets the stage for other industries to seek legislation that would shield their misdeeds from public view. In a worst-case scenario, it could set a standard by which the secret filming of any illegal activity on private property — say, for example, child abuse or human trafficking — becomes taboo. Why does the agricultural industry get special treatment in Iowa? Why don't they just pass a law that prohibits anyone from entering any private business with a hidden camera? Shall we pretend that this law is acceptable because Big Agriculture is the one industry wholesome enough to never do anything behind closed doors that the public would find objectionable?
And that's exactly the point: The legislation specifically shields agricultural operations, because it was lobbied and paid for by the agricultural industry. There's little to prevent other influential groups and industries from following suit — any among them who, at one time or another, wants to hide something unsavory. And who among them does not?
So, where's the public outrage over this bill? Why hasn't it been met with the same reaction as the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public workers? Or the requirement that foreign-looking people present their papers to law enforcement officials on demand? Why hasn't it received so much as a casual mention in the national media? This law has a direct bearing on the sources of the food we eat — that our kids eat. In an age when we should know more about where our food comes from, we know less and less.
Iowans, I do hope that you'll take the opportunity to tackle this one before it moves on to other states — as it inevitably otherwise will.