Sale of the Century

Update: This post was, in our Editor's own judgment, a bit hasty. We've since reconsidered much of it, given that the actual text of the "Buckeye Compromise" isn't entirely consistent with what was presented at Wednesday's press conference. It turns out our Editor's enthusiasm was, in many ways, premature.

The next time I buy a house or consider a job offer, I want Ohio Farm Bureau vice president Jack Fisher as my negotiator. (That's him above, at left.)

A little over an hour ago, Fisher stood with Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (center) and Humane Society of the United States CEO Wayne Pacelle (the guy looking displeased) for a press conference, announcing that HSUS will be pulling out of Ohio. Call it a case of campaignus interruptus.

What the heck happened? Did the Farm Bureau fold like a tent and concede victory to HSUS, as other states’ farmers have done? (I’m talkin’ to you, Colorado and Michigan…)

Nope. Despite a self-congratulatory press release from HSUS, the group got practically nothing that it wanted from Ohio’s farmers. Instead, Pacelle has agreed to abandon HSUS’s whole “Ohioans for Humane Farms” front group in exchange for the equivalent of $24 in blue beads.

Let’s take a look at what each side in the HSUS-versus-Buckeye-farmers battle got. It’s not pretty.

Farmers got:

  1. A complete victory for Ohio egg producers. Who are we kidding? This whole fight was all about egg farmers. Everything else was secondary. And every existing Ohio egg farm will be able to continue doing exactly what it’s been doing.

    HSUS is crowing that there will be “a moratorium on permits” for farmers who want to build new egg farms. But guess what? In this economy, no one in Ohio was lining up to invest more money in new equipment. That’s the whole reason farmers fought this—to avoid having to spend money they didn’t have on meaningless infrastructure “improvements.” And guess what else: If Governor Strickland isn’t re-elected this November, his successor (or any future Governor) could just lift the “moratorium."

    Had HSUS lost the ballot initiative in November, I’d have been willing to bet that the group would have persisted anyway, challenging the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board year after year until it wore Ohio’s egg farmers down. But under this settlement, HSUS is agreeing to walk away and not come back. (Bottom line: HSUS got spanked.)

  2. Another fifteen years to use gestation crates in hog farming, and the opportunity to bring in an unlimited supply of new ones through the end of December. This is huge. HSUS came into Ohio promising to force Ohio farmers to abandon them in just seven years. But the equipment, as Pacelle himself acknowledged in today’s press conference, has roughly a 15-year life cycle. So pork producers will be unaffected until 2026. By then, the entire complexion of the pork industry could look different. Who knows? Or a future Livestock Care Standards Board could just reverse the decision. (Bottom line: HSUS gets nothing.)

  3. A guarantee that nothing at all will happen in the veal industry. HSUS’s press release makes “a ban on veal crates by 2017” sound like a big deal, but it’s not. Why? The American Veal Association has already announced a nation-wide phase-out of veal crates by—you guessed it—2017. (Bottom line: Meaningless.)

HSUS got:

  1. A “recommendation” from the Governor supporting “felony-level legislation for cockfighters.” This would have happened independently anyway in the next few years, as HSUS has been barnstorming state-by state to make cockfighting a felony crime everywhere. And even if Strickland and the Farm Bureau recommend something, they still need the state’s legislature to act. (Bottom line: Who cares?)

  2. A “recommendation” from the Governor promoting “strong” (but unspecified) legislation cracking down on “puppy mills.” The devil will be in the details here. But I suspect this won’t sail through the legislature the way an anti-cockfighting bill should. There will still be serious concerns about why HSUS should get to decide how many animals a dog breeder ought to be permitted to own—because farmers understand that such limits can invite a simple, lateral move to place limits on livestock ownership. (Bottom line: It’s 50-50 HSUS gets anything at all.)

  3. A promise that the Governor will “push an administrative rule prohibiting citizens from keeping bears, lions, and chimpanzees as pets.” I didn’t know this was a huge problem. Honestly, how many Ohioans are hoarding Gentle Ben in the root cellar? (Bottom line: This is a throwaway line inserted to give Pacelle an additional way to save face.)

Starting to see the bigger picture? These “recommendations” and “promises” are just political maneuvers, executed by politicians, in order to hedge their bets against future political uncertainty.

Governor Strickland (D) is uncertain about his re-election. Most polls have him running even with Republican John Kasich, or slightly behind. He didn’t want every rural voter in the state coming out to crush HSUS, and then reflexively pulling the (R) lever for Governor.

Wayne Pacelle was uncertain that he could win, too. Buying your way to 500,000 signatures by importing paid operatives from other states isn’t the same thing as winning the hearts and minds of voters who are already suspicious of your motives. He didn’t want to walk away completely empty-handed (and with a blemish on his “perfect” ballot-initiative record).

Who seemed to be the least uncertain about the future? Ohio’s farmers. To be sure, they didn’t want to risk a razor-thin HSUS victory in November, or all the job losses, price increases, and economic devastation it would have brought. But I have to believe HSUS would never have made this deal unless its own internal polling looked dicey. And the Farm Bureau polls the public too.

Now that the press conference is over, of course, Ohio’s pundits will try to find meaning in the result. But one thing is clear: Wayne Pacelle got beat. The mighty Casey has struck out. And livestock farmers in other states are watching.