Christie Bows to Iowa’s Pork Kings on Gestation Crates
“It’s a sad day,” a thick New Jersey accent greeted me on the phone the Friday after Thanksgiving. It belonged to Ray Lesniak, a Democratic state senator who had just heard the news that Gov. Chris Christie vetoed his bill, S.1921, an uncontroversial measure that would have banned the inhumane practice of keeping breeding pigs in tiny metal crates for pork production.
“I don’t see him as a good person,” Lesniak said, audibly agitated by Christie’s decision, which he charges was done to position himself as the candidate of choice for Republican primary voters in Iowa, where green-lighting the use of “gestation crates,” as they’re called, will garner nods of approval from powerful Big Pork interests.
The veto, Lesniak said, was “not unexpected, that’s for sure. His decisions are purely political.” All Christie thinks about, according to Lesniak, is “How does this help him in his national political ambitions?”
“I was hoping he would see that by signing this legislation, he would send the message that principle is more important than his personal ambitions. Unfortunately, what the governor has professed in the past—that he’ll do anything to win—trumped any sense of decency he may have left in his body.”
Lesniak sighed: “I don’t see that he has any moral compass within him.”
According to Christie, his veto was not about moral compasses or being a good person, but saving the Garden State from the implementation of more gratuitous red tape—since the crates are not even thought to be used much, if at all, among the state’s 250 pig farmers.
But as I reported in early November, Christie seemed to be legislating with Iowa in mind even before scandal called into question his formidability as a presidential prospect.
In 2013, Christie vetoed a different, but similar gestation-crate ban, citing some frankly unconvincing concerns about the Department of Agriculture not being involved enough in the process, and two obscure veterinarian groups not endorsing the bill. Never mind the fact that more than 100 veterinarian groups had endorsed it, and so had 91 percent of New Jersey voters (a number that has crept up to 93 percent in surveys in the last 12 months).
Christie had been lobbied hard by the pork industry. The Des Moines-based National Pork Producers Council wrote a letter, calling the bill “a solution in search of a problem” and saying they “hope Gov. Christie won’t go along with it.”
In Christie’s Friday veto message of S.1921, he used some the exact same language employed by the NPPC: “This bill is a solution in search of a problem. It is a political movement masquerading as substantive policy.”
Animal advocates contend that banning practices not widely used will “remove the welcome mat” for industrial pork producers who might move into New Jersey as the gestation crates become increasingly unwelcome elsewhere.
In his veto message, Christie also chided Democratic lawmakers for “using their lawmaking authority to play politics.”
Partially plagiarized or not, Lesniak did not buy Christie’s newest reasoning for the veto, and charged that it is Christie who is playing politics.
“His explanation makes no logical sense whatsoever, because if [the practice isn’t thought to be used] here, then why wouldn’t he sign the bill? What’s the harm?” Lesniak asked. “The governor is sending a message to the pork industry: You’re welcome to use cruel practices here in New Jersey. Come on board!”
After first having their veto-override effort defeated last year, animal-rights activists and Lesniak decided to come back with entirely new legislation that addressed Christie’s concerns. The Humane Society even literally moved into town, renting a waterfront house in the trendy town of Asbury Park, and engaging in stunt politics at the Trenton statehouse, trotting out a human-size metal gestation crate and tempting people to get inside of it for four minutes to see how they liked it.
I climbed into the crate—82 inches long, 26 inches wide, and 11.5 inches deep—in late October. As Matthew Dominguez, the group’s public policy manager of farm and animal protection, snapped the lock shut behind my back, my heart started to race. Even when it’s not serious and it’s for the purpose of writing an article, it’s not comfortable to be trapped in a cage, unable to turn around. At barely four minutes, I could understand why breeding sows start to go so crazy in here that they gnaw on the metal bars, which slices their mouths open and causes infections.
Last year, when Christie vetoed the bill, the Humane Society hinted that it thought it was politically motivated, but it did not go as far as to explicitly say it was—unlike Lesniak, who told me at the time that Christie “has no values.” With the second veto on Friday, however, all bets seemed to be off.
“Looks like he’s running in 2016,” Dominguez said when he heard the news.
He added: “Gov. Christie has proved himself an outlier on the issue of farm animal torture… This shameful veto shows cynical political calculation from the governor and an obvious submission to Iowa factory farmers, rather than leadership and humanity.”
Christie’s office had no comment. They haven’t responded to any of my questions about this issue since I started asking them in 2013.