Traditionally in politics, the best time to roll out inconvenient, flies-swirling-stinky news that might displease much of the general public is a late Friday afternoon on a holiday weekend.
On cue, Gov. Mary Fallin delivered just such a message last week when -- on Good Friday -- she signed into law a measure that legalizes the slaughtering of horses in Oklahoma and shipping their meat to other countries for possible human consumption.
The governor's office had hinted for days that she was leaning toward supporting the proposal, despite evidence of significant opposition.
So she announced her signing of House Bill 1999 in a low-key way: in a news release, sans the pomp-and-circumstance of a public, Capitol Blue Room signing. The hope? That most voters -- especially 2014 Republican primary voters -- would be too distracted by who's attending Sunday brunch or helping color the eggs to notice.
You can bet, though, that opponents won't let this breech of public decency be forgotten. Nor are they likely to let others forget how a Legislature that can take months to decide far less controversial issues could slip this proposal through both houses at warp speed -- only the second bill the governor has signed into law all session.
Good grief -- what's next on the slaughter line? Cats? Dogs? With this mindset prevailing, it surely won't be long before some redneck suggests Oklahoma get back in the cockfighting game.
Can't you just hear the sales pitch now? As the only state to permit Rooster Wars, Oklahoma could generate a financial windfall from economic development and tourism!
Fallin didn't just ride into Oklahoma City on a turnip truck. She's traveled beyond the borders of our fair state. Voyaged to Europe for a family wedding. Even spent some years living in Washington, DC.
She knows damn well that most Americans -- indeed, most Oklahomans do not view cattle and horses the same when it comes to cuisine.
And this, we also know: the governor can read polls.
Otherwise, she wouldn't routinely break into the Tea Party two-step, flip-flopping on issues that are common sense to almost everyone but the wingnuts who exert disproportionate influence in low-turnout primaries. She does have a re-election campaign to worry about next year, don't you know.
Which actually made her decision to sign into law Rep. Skye McNiel's horse slaughter bill all the more fascinating.
A recent SoonerPoll found two-thirds of likely Oklahoma voters opposed the horse-slaughter measure. And among those who opposed it, 88 percent strongly opposed it.
More specifically for the governor's re-election consideration: 63.4 percent of Republicans don't like the idea of Oklahoma becoming an arm of the notoriously sketchy Mexican horse slaughter market.
The horse-slaughter bill's start-to-finish reeks of funny business.
It's always proper to ask who stands to benefit from any proposed legislation. It's especially pertinent when a measure wins quick approval like HB 1999 -- despite significant street demonstrations against it.
We know, of course, that McNiel's family is in the horse auction business. Cha-ching!
Hmmm ... who else might cash in? Keep an eye peeled for deep-pocketed, corporate agriculture interests always on the prowl to make an extra buck.
Those who promoted this scheme insisted, of course, they are demonstrating compassion for tired, old horses that currently are shipped to Mexican or Canadian slaughterhouses.
Let us do it here, they urge. It will be so much more humane than in Mexico, where horses are clubbed into submission and their throats slit.
Ask Elsie about U.S. packing plants, then decide for yourself if it would be substantially more humane here.
Look, I like a good cheeseburger as much as the next guy. Fried chicken may be my all-time favorite main dish. I've dined on venison. Even a buffalo burger once at a downtown Denver joint.
The point is, I'm not a food radical, at least not by Oklahoma standards. I'm neither vegetarian nor vegan.
But there's something about slaughtering horses that most Oklahomans -- including me -- can't abide.
Maybe we were captivated by majestic westerns as kids? Or the raw power and beauty as thoroughbreds and quarter horses' hooves pounded down the stretch at Remington Park or Fair Meadows? Or maybe it was the pony rides at the county fair? Or ... Polo, anyone?
Horses are iconic American species, nowhere more so than in a mostly rural state like Oklahoma. They are our trusted companions. Our work colleagues. Our family pets. In some cases, they are among our most significant financial investments.
The idea of shipping ol' Paint to the slaughterhouse to appear on somebody's menu halfway around the world isn't very appetizing.
And I'm not even going to dive much into what evils might be lurking inside our horses since so many are treated with such drugs as Phenylbutazone and Nitrofurazone that are banned in Europe and Canada.
As state Sen. Al McAffrey, D-Oklahoma City, wrote recently, "This means that most American horses will be deemed unfit for slaughter if their meat is to be shipped to the European community.
"A recent audit by the European Union of Mexican plants that slaughtered American horses revealed an unacceptably high incidence of horses that were rejected due to toxic residues in their tissues."
Cattle are raised to be food. So are chickens and catfish. Horses, dogs and cats aren't.
I know, I know: Some uber libertarians argue that the nasty old government should not be telling horse owners what they can and cannot do with their property.
But the truth is, we already have limits on what people can and cannot do with animals. Legally, you can't starve your horses. Or beat your dog to death. Or have too many cats in your possession.
Indeed, you can only hunt deer or quail or pheasant certain times of the year.
The bottom line is this: There simply are better, more humane ways to deal with horses whose lives are nearing the end.
Slaughtering them and selling their meat for human consumption overseas would put Oklahoma in gnarly company -- check out the (legitimate) videos on the Internet or the documentaries detailing the barbarism in Mexico.
Still, it's clearly difficult, if not impossible, for most folks to separate Mister Ed or Trigger or a Triple Crown winner from a broken down old nag in LeFlore County. A horse is a horse, of course, of course -- beautiful, majestic, iconic.
So it's not likely this battle is over. It no doubt will shift quickly to Washington, where pressure will build to strengthen a federal ban. You can bet someone already is scouting for a GOP primary opponent -- probably even a Democratic challenger -- for McNiel.
And if someone moves ahead with plans to build a slaughterhouse in Oklahoma? It's better than even-money opponents would make Keystone XL pipeline protests seem quaint by comparison.
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