Pork producers scored a victory last week, when sponsors of the bill to ban the use of maternity pens in New Jersey realized they didn’t have enough votes to override Governor Chris Christie’s earlier veto of the bill.
Veto supporters made a gallant effort. State Senator Raymond Lesniak, sponsor of the bill, actively campaigned to get enough Republicans to veto the governor. The Democrat from Union, NJ, videotaped a message that appeared on the Humane Society of United States (HSUS) website, pleading voters to call their congressmen. He has received the “Legislator Award” from the organization last year.
The HSUS also had an appeal to voters, explaining how calling is “easy and stress-free: you will speak to a friendly receptionist who wants to hear your opinion and won’t ask you difficult questions.” On a less passive front, the organization spent $150,000 on a television ad campaign in support of the veto and designed to “educate” voters.
As the animal industry knows very well, HSUS is pushing to ban gestation crates state by state. More than 100 activists dressed in pink shirts with pictures of pigs on them and the words "Vote yes again on S1921" flooded the Statehouse to lobby senators.
Even though the bill had passed 29-4 in May, the vote reversals deprived Senate Democrats of the 27 ayes they needed for a successful override. Seeing just 25 yes votes on the board and knowing the attempt would fail, Lesniak requested the bill be pulled and said he’d try again when the Senate meets next month.
According to an article in the Star-Ledger by Matt Friedman, the Legislature has never succeeded in overriding any of Christie’s vetoes, even with bills that had originally passed overwhelmingly, because Republicans have always been willing to change their votes so as not to go against Christie.
Lesniak’s website says he became interested in animal rights “when he experienced the final weeks of his beloved Brittany, a mixed breed Spaniel he adopted. After 19 years of companionship, Brittany’s health failed. Sparing no expense, Senator Lesniak took Brittany to the Red Bank Veterinary Hospital, but the best care couldn’t save Brittany.”
One “dog year” is equivalent to seven “human years,” which would have made his dog 133 years old.
In the past decade, Lesniak’s law firm Weiner Lesniak, has done legal work for scores of New Jersey municipalities, collecting millions of dollars. Richard Lezin Jones reports in the New York Times that, “In many instances, the contracts awarded to Mr. Lesniak's firm came after the senator or his allies offered campaign contributions or other political support to local officials who decide who will get the work, a fact that Mr. Lesniak acknowledges.
“While such trade-offs are hardly novel or unique to New Jersey's power brokers, what sets them apart is the prevalence and common acceptance of the practice. By Mr. Lesniak's estimates, government work accounted for as much as a quarter of his firm's business in recent years.”
Lesniak said in a July op-ed article in The Times of Trenton that Christie’s "political ambitions appear to be dictating his decision" to veto the bill. Fortunately for pork producers and the citizens of New Jersey, Governor Christie appears to have a good deal more common sense and objectivity than a state senator who “spares no expense” to save the life of a 133-year-old dog.