Guest Commentary: The Cornstalk Brigade

Fred Dailey, former director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture for 16 years and Republican candidate for state representative, provides the following editorial opinion on the recent agreement between Ohio agricultural leaders, the Humane Society of the United States and Gov. Ted Strickland.

Published on: Oct 11, 2010

By Fred L. Dailey

The year was 1972 and the battle lines had been drawn. Out-of-state animal rights groups had hired professional signature collectors to facilitate a statewide ballot initiative that would ban leg-hold traps in Ohio. They had been successful with similar initiatives in other states and they were financed and energized.

The campaign was bloody. Billboards and TV ads showed animals chewing off their legs to free themselves from the clenched jaws of the steel traps. There were allegations that some of the scenes were staged by animal rights photographers to be as dramatic as possible. After all, these groups pride themselves on their ability to manipulate public opinion, no matter the costs. Many pundits predicted that this David and Goliath election would end badly for the trappers and their backwoods buddies.

 As ag director, Dailey gained national attention when he obtained felony convictions on many fair exhibitors who had tampered with their livestock. He is a cattleman, and he has also been a hunter and trapper for many years.
As ag director, Dailey gained national attention when he obtained felony convictions on many fair exhibitors who had tampered with their livestock. He is a cattleman, and he has also been a hunter and trapper for many years.

But a funny thing happened that year. The cornstalk brigade showed up at the polls. This coalition of farmers, livestock producers, sportsmen, and rural residents tends to be conservative and they tend to vote Republican. They are not easily bullied. They drive pickup trucks, value their second amendment rights, and proudly display the American flag in their front yard. They don't trust people who run around naked while carrying signs that say: "I'd rather wear nothing than fur."

And, they showed up at the polls in droves that year. Farmers climbed out of their combines to vote. Hunters left their deer stands to head to the polls. Turtle trappers and ginseng hunters from the hills and hollows of eastern and southern Ohio flocked to their rural precincts to cast their ballots. Stockyards rented buses to transport the Amish, sometimes reticent to vote, into the polls. When the votes were tallied, the animal rights groups were in a state of consternation. They had been soundly defeated and their spirits were as wilted as their day-old dinner salads.

Now, fast forward to 2009 and please stop me if this seems like deja-vu. Out-of-state animal rights groups, spearheaded by the Humane Society of the United States, delivered an ultimatum to Ohio's ag leaders and threatened to hire professional signature collectors to facilitate a statewide ballot initiative that would restrict the manner in which Ohio farmers could raise certain species of livestock and poultry. These groups openly admit that they have a vegan agenda and that they would like to do away with animal agriculture in Ohio and across the nation. They also would like to ban hunting and fishing. They won't even let their kids eat animal crackers.

In a curious twist and an ineffective effort to be preemptive, Ohio's farm leaders responded with their own ballot initiative, which created the Livestock Care Standards Board. They spent almost $5 million promoting this proposal, money better spent on the real battle. This proposal did nothing to deter the HSUS from proceeding with their ballot initiative this fall, and actually made it easier for them to amend language that is now embedded, regrettably, in the Ohio Constitution.

 Here is where 2010 differs from 1972. Gov. Strickland, already engaged in a tight gubernatorial race, and with poll numbers getting worse by the day, cajoles both sides into accepting the "great compromise" which forestalls the HSUS from pursuing their ballot initiative this fall in exchange for a moratorium and restrictions on certain livestock practices and a phasing out of others.  The HSUS was ecstatic about this compromise, while most rank and file farmers felt betrayed.

Gov. Strickland's incentive to broker this ephemeral deal had nothing to do with animal welfare, nor did he give a rat's whisker about putting our livestock and poultry industries at a competitive disadvantage to neighboring states. His overriding, singular concern, in my opinion, was to suppress voter turnout in rural Ohio.

The HSUS smugly reminds us that they still have 400,000 signatures in their back pocket and they are using this threat like the sword of Damocles poised precariously above the heads of Ohio's livestock industry. They are now sitting at the table, impatiently tapping their synthetic shoes on the floor. They will never be satisfied and they will always be demanding more. Ohio ag leaders need to gird their loins and do what is right, like the trappers whose spines were made of the same material as their traps. And, you don't let some knucklehead with a crowbar and a compliant, perhaps complicit, animal rights photographer intimidate you from doing what's best for Ohio's number one industry.

Governor Strickland sold out Ohio's livestock and poultry industries. He sold out our sportsmen, he sold out our Amish community, and he sold out rural Ohio. Come November, Ohio's cornstalk brigade may again rise up and head to the polls, if for no other reason than to say, "Bye Bye, Governor."

Fred L. Dailey
Mount Vernon