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To pay penance for praising racial segregation, Trent Lott showed up on BET, and he says he intends to make other public appearances with real live black folks. That’s essentially the same route the Greaseman took on the way to unemployment. The White House will no doubt devise equally ham-fisted damage-control schemes. Look for George W. Bush to deliver his State of the Union address in a dashiki.
This isn’t the first time that Lott has caused problems for fellow Republicans by revealing his longing for those parts of the good ol’ days that not everybody thinks were all that good. An odd part of his dossier, for example, shows that Lott has long been the best friend cockfighting has in Congress.
“It’s appalling that anyone in this day and age would be an apologist for cockfighting,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “But that’s Trent Lott. Over the weekend, I was thinking about how that’s one other part of Trent Lott’s package of ideas that not many people know about.”
Lott’s views on race are obvious from his congressional record, and so is his pro-cocker stance. Last year, to the dismay of many members of his party, he used the powers that go with being Senate majority leader to almost single-handedly kill off a bill that would have put severe federal restrictions on cockfighting.
The blood sport is currently legal in only three states—Louisiana, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, where a recently passed resolution banning cockfighting has been stayed by the courts. But animal-rights advocates and law-enforcement agencies agree that underground cocker operations can be found all over the country. The Senate measure would have closed a loophole in the 1966 Animal Welfare Act that allows birds to be shipped across state lines for the purpose of cockfighting and would have made such shipping a felony.
The bill was introduced early in the just-ended 107th session of Congress by Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.) and given overwhelming approval by the Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Richard Lugar (R-Ind.). But Lott made sure the bill didn’t ever get to the Senate floor for a vote.
Symms & Haddow, a lobbying firm made up of former congressional staffer John Haddow and ex-U.S. Sen. Steve Symms, convinced Lott to kill Allard’s bill on behalf of their client, the American Animal Husbandry Coalition (AAHC), a pro-cockfighting nonprofit.
“If put to a vote, the senators are going to vote against us,” says Haddow, adding that the AAHC estimates that cockfighting is a $600-million-a-year industry in the United States. “One senator told me, ‘If I vote [for cockfighting], how would I put this to the soccer moms?’ So what we did for years was procedurally keep it from coming to a vote. We were able to use procedural methods to have it killed.”
Lott’s tabling of the anti-cockfighting measure stunned Pacelle.
“That bill would have gotten 95 votes if it was ever put to a vote,” he says. “Unfortunately, one of the five against it was Trent Lott, and that was all it took. He just was not going to let this get to a vote. It was unbelievable.”
Lott spokesperson Ron Bonjean did not return calls for comment.
(A small snapshot of one of the odder bedfellows Lott made during the cockfighting debate: In 1989, Symms was named at the top of the list of Spy magazine’s roster of “The Stupidest Congressmen in Washington.” He’s also the guy who during the 1988 presidential campaign claimed he had a picture of Kitty Dukakis burning an American flag—he never produced such a photo—and in 1983 was part of a team of lawmakers who filed an emergency motion with the U.S. Supreme Court to have FBI files on Dr. Martin Luther King unsealed in an effort to prevent a federal holiday for the civil-rights leader. Symms didn’t return phone calls for this article.)
Despite Lott’s working against him, Allard didn’t give up his anti-cockfighting fight. This spring, he was able to sidestep Lott’s procedural powers just enough to get language into an agriculture-appropriations bill that outlawed the transportation of fighting birds across state lines. But in its final version, which was signed into law by President Bush in May, the offense is only a misdemeanor.
Pacelle says Lott’s current controversy has helped him understand the senator’s actions. The HSUS, he adds, will continue to work with Allard to get a toothier anti-cockfighting law passed during the next congressional session, when Lott won’t likely be powerful enough to stop such a measure.
“Lott was way out of step not just with Democrats but with people in his own party on this issue,” says Pacelle. “Just like his comments [about integration], this says a little something about where Lott believes his
constituency lies. Most people think this stuff is a part of America’s past. I don’t think Lott thinks it’s the past. That’s the point.” —Dave McKenna