Congressman Yoho Takes the Lead and Industry Spins the Story

It is discouraging to try to penetrate a mind like yours. You ought to get it out and dance on it. That would take some of the rigidity out of it.
— Mark Twain

Who wouldn’t take a spin on the wheel of fortune?  “Round and round it goes and where it stops, nobody knows, ” speaks to the gambler in all of us. What if we discovered that the carnival barker, the man behind the wheel, put a tilt to it, just a little bit of a fix, but enough to throw the wheel off kilter?  We’d feel tricked but more importantly we’d feel foolish for having ever believed that a wheel that could be fixed might produce an honest result.


The industry seems to have the names of all its self-identified enemies attached to such a wheel. They give it a spin and when it stops, wherever it comes to rest, that’s what gets the attention for the day—HSUS, FOSH, Dane, Whitfield, these are the obvious placeholders when the more than a random occurrence comes  to a halt. But have no fear; new names can be added to the wheel  whenever the cause demands it and they will be used, too,  to rally the faithful.


June 15th in an article appearing in an industry house organ, it was revealed that    Congressman Ted Yoho, (R-FL), a veterinarian before he was a congressman, had announced that in the 115th session of Congress, he would lead on reintroduction of  the PAST Act.  Yoho made the announcement during  the meeting of the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C., although that was not reported in the story.


That’s news and Yoho was the newsmaker.  Instead the tilt-a-wheel figured out a way to make HSUS the headliner and then continued to put a slant on the story that was worthy of the spin from any of the better PR firms in the business of telling a version of a  story that their clients can get behind.


“HSUS Tabs Rep. Yoho as Champion of PAST Act”, was the headline


The lead began with the establishing statement  that the “Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has been searching for a sponsor in the House of Representatives to re-introduce the PAST Act since the beginning of 2015”. The story quoted  Congressman Yoho’s Communications Director, Brian Kaveney, as confirming his boss would sponsor what the writer called “the controversial legislation”.


To review, in 2014 the   industry gave their wheel a spin and called on friends like Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) to tilt the balance by neutralizing forward motion on PAST.  They didn’t call the   procedural actions they took controversial; they called it knowing how the game is played and they played it well.  


The best part for both politicians and their industry friends was that no one actually figured out by name, which of them were under the pointer when the wheel stopped dead at the end of the 114th session.  It was only because of these actions of a few, supportive of the big lick position, using  the established procedures that run the nation’s legislative body, that the PAST Act was kept from getting the vote it deserved. It wasn’t because the bill was considered “controversial” by anyone except those same politicians acting in support of their friends.


The PAST Act is controversial only in the minds of the people who show big lick show horses. In 2014 a majority of the House, including a majority of the Republican majority, signed on in support of the legislation.

 On the Senate side, a filibuster proof majority of  both Democrats and Republicans signed on to PAST. Notably, alternative legislation in the House and Senate introduced by Tennessee politicians, with input given to them from the performance horse business, never gained traction.


In 2014 in  the House,  Congressman Whitfield (R-KY) led the PAST charge. When it became apparent that the momentum in support of  the bill was too much for comfort, the industry spun its wheel and landed on the block for instigating a last ditch congressional inquiry into Congressman Whitfield’s actions to move PAST forward.  That letter, a Hail Mary play, became the starting point for   a full- blown ethics investigation, as it was no doubt hoped that it would do.


PSHA’s lobbyist, Jeff Speakes of Kentucky, once a senior staffer for the powerful Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), a big name in appropriations, certainly knows how to help craft messages and strategy that will get attention in D.C. That’s the reason he was hired and he has earned his fee.    Although the industry denied having written such a letter and some of the people who signed it couldn’t remember doing so, a copy of it was published for all who were interested in reading it.


But why,  in 2015,   in  a story about Representative Yoho, would a reporter  spend time   retelling Whitfield’s story, pointing out that he ended up with an ethics charge still actively being pursued, directly related to the efforts he made on behalf of PAST. Was the story  a sort of perverse Aesop’s fable?   

 The story related that  “the tactics used by his office, his wife, and the HSUS landed Whitfield in hot water with his colleagues and he now faces ethics charges in front of the House Ethics Committee.”  And what, exactly does that have to do with Congressman Yoho’s announcement?



The paragraph in this story is textbook in the way it is written, almost as if it were a veiled caution to Representative Yoho to think carefully about what happened to the Whitfields before he decides to bring PAST forward.


Spin that wheel. After identifying the PAST Act as an HSUS effort and as controversial legislation, the story then describes it as “pro-democratic legislation”. 


Does the writer infer that this is a bill written by shadowy Democrats and that its passage would somehow accrue benefit to a particular political party?  If that were the case why would PAST have been the recipient of one of the larger bi-partisan co-sponsorships of any bill introduced in the House and in the Senate last session?


The story relates that in 2014 Representative Yoho “admitted”, an interesting choice of words as if to imply that some sort of haze of untruthfulness hangs around the Congressman, that in a meeting with both Whitfield and industry representatives that he said pads and action devices did no harm to the horse.


Unless there is a verbatim transcript of this meeting somewhere, it strains credulity to believe that a veterinarian, a trained medical professional with more than a passing understanding of the scientific method, would ever make an all-inclusive statement that strongly supported the performance horse position and yet      went on to co-sponsor the PAST Act in the same year.


  The congressman did more in 2014  than co-sponsor; he actively encouraged his colleagues to join him in the effort to pass the PAST Act.


Spin the wheel. The story continued quoting Congressman Yoho as saying during this 2014 meeting with unidentified industry reps, that he would “never support a Humane Society of the United States initiative.”  The writer then opines that Dr. Yoho has now “apparently changed course and will be the lead sponsor of the one of the top priorities of the HSUS. “


Congressman Yoho has, in the past,   spoken  with  with representatives of the AVMA, the AHC,  the AAEP, and the HSUS to ask questions, to  hear,  and to  examine the reasons why these different organizations are all  in support of PAST. Hearing from both sides on  an issue is the job of any responsible public official and there's nothing to raise an alarm there. Refusing to hear but one side on an issue, when you are an elected official, that is cause for alarm.


Numerous editorials, including those in newspapers within the state of Tennessee, have come out in support of the legislation. The endorsement list for PAST includes major breed registries, organizations of professional horsemen, riding clubs, veterinarians, farriers, equine bio-mechanics specialists, and a host of other equine professionals.  Members in the House and in the Senate have taken note of this support.



Unlike the impression given in the article, PAST is, in fact, not just a top priority for the HSUS; it is also top priority for the AVMA, the AAEP, the AHC and the ASPCA.  Those names, however, don’t seem to show up on the wheel of fortune when the paper writes its reports abut the PAST Act or when it writes about Yoho’s recent announcement.




The industry piece then abandoned any pretense of being a news story and switched to straight opinion writing. Reminding subscribers that “Representative Yoho ran as a tea party Republican with an anti-big government stance but that the PAST Act takes enforcement out of the hands of private entities and turns all enforcement over to the USDA at a substantial cost to the taxpayer”, the writer gave the wheel such a gas-powered whirl that it’s astonishing that it was not sent airborne from sheer thrust.


First, the USDA is unable to put the enforcement of a federal law into the hands of “private entities”. Just as the IRS can’t make collecting taxes the purview of H& R Block.  Politicians foisted the private entities to which the writer refers, known as HIOs, on the USDA, and they did it at the industry’s behest.


The Horse Protection Act was, from its inception, inadequately funded for full inspection services to be offered solely by USDA employees.  Foxes were expediently turned into the poultry pen and asked to help with monitoring the goings- on.


Full responsibility for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act remains the sole province of the USDA. The HIOs were originally intended to be consenting partners, inspecting horses at the many shows where USDA inspectors could not be in attendance, receiving training from the USDA to adequately do that job.  That might have worked had some of the HIOs not had private agendas that did not always correspond to the job that the USDA envisioned they would do.  A 2010 report from the USDA’s Inspector General states that the HIO system has failed. It simply doesn’t work.


Over the years the USDA   was made to accept, then urged, and have come close to being to being threatened by a continuing stream of industry friendly elected officials  should they  fail  to work closely with the HIOs and, by extension,  to meet their needs and demands.


 [Kentucky's Lexington Herald has written  an expose story about a letter written by Senator Mitch McConnell and signed by industry supportive cohorts that threatened the USDA’s appropriations if they didn’t come to terms with the demands of one particular set of HIOs.]


Moving to the story’s assertion that there would  “substantial cost to the taxpayer” should PAST become law, in 2014 the decidedly non-partisan Congressional Budget Office scored the PAST Act as levying no additional cost to the taxpayer should it be enacted. 



Say what you mean; say it again; restate it in a different way and repeat it. That’s the art of making a persuasive argument; that’s what this story did.  Making sure that big lick voters in Florida, as well as big lick voters from across the nation who support the campaign funds  and PACs of  politicians aligned with the industry, didn’t miss the message, the story concluded with another barbed comment about “ the apparent alliance of Representative Yoho and the HSUS” going against “many of the values of the district Rep. Yoho represents and the major tenants (sic) of the Tea Party movement.” 


As it’s unlikely that the Tea Party rents out its views to tenants, the writer meant “tenets”.  This sentence appears to be a warning shot, not a subtle one, aimed across Congressman Yoho’s bow.


Continue on this course and there could be a consequence, that’s the message from the big lick industry.  As Yoho has only signaled an intention but has yet to make an official move on the reintroduction, a warning could be meant to influence a change in direction. That would be unlikely, but if you’re a player you have to spin the wheel.


This brings the reader to the conclusion of the article. In this instance the concluding sentence creates a new confusion.


After quoting Mr. Kaveney as saying  “after 30 years as a veterinarian, Representative Yoho feels that this (the PAST Act) is a necessary move, considering that the industry has had 40 years to self-regulate”, the writer couldn’t leave well enough alone. He or she observes that Kaveney “did not mention that the USDA has been in charge of enforcement of the HPA, including conducting inspections at industry shows, since its inception.”   


Is your head whirling yet? What about the preceding sentences where the writer informed the reader that the PAST Act, if enacted, would  “take enforcement completely out of the hands of private entities and turn all enforcement over to the USDA at substantial cost to the government.”


 No matter how you spin it, the USDA can’t be the maligned goat- in- charge in paragraph 7 but “private entities” are identified in the same story  as being  “currently in charge of enforcement” in paragraph 6.


Mr. Kaveney doesn’t need to be told that the USDA was, is, and forever shall be in charge and responsible for the enforcement of the HPA. It’s clear that he and his congressman understand that and a great deal more.


Eliminating the performance package and the action devices are only a part of the PAST blueprint for ending the 40-year reign of the sored show horse. Cleaning up the inspection system is another part. Making penalties meaningful is a third. As a veterinarian, Representative Yoho clearly  understands that intentionally harming an animal for entertainment purposes is not acceptable. These are the reasons why  Representative Yoho is acting to introduce an animal welfare bill that upholds and amends an existing federal law and puts both responsibility, as well as added authority for that enforcement,  in the hands of a federal agency, the USDA, where it belongs.



 Although associated with Tea Party ideas, Representative Yoho is not an anti-government legislator, per se.  He is instead   determined, as he sees it,  to make the  government, whatever its size, act effectively and responsibly. His decision to lead on this issue falls well within the spectrum of his political values.


Consider this: there actually could come a time when PAST is in full swing, that the USDA would spend less time and use  fewer resources   monitoring horse shows, pursuing and testifying in federal cases, maintaining public data bases with the names of thousands of violators, and being sued in court by “its partner private entities” over what constitutes appropriate mandatory penalties and oversight, because the sore horse and its supporting structures  will be eradicated.



When PAST finally passes, no matter how long it takes to get it done, there will be no more excuses that can come out of Washington, D.C., explaining why it is has been impossible to remove the sore horse from public exhibition.  Under PAST, the responsibility for successful enforcement of the HPA will focus on the USDA;  people within the agency  will have to act to end the soring problem or answer for the failure to do so and, in the interim,  people who continue to try to sore horses will be found and punished.  


It appears that’s what Congressman Yoho believes PAST will do and why he has chosen through his announcement to take his own spin at the wheel.  May he have both luck and success.