“You’re not from here, ” Is one of the common criticisms levied against people who do not reside in the southern states where the peculiar institution and cultural tradition of the big lick show horse set is making its last stand. Its defenders are waging a battle both against public opinion and the federal government. One person who definitely is “from here” is Tennessee State Representative Andy Holt (R-Dresden), who is, as would be expected, a supporter of the self-styled walking horse industry.
It’s good to know something about the private opinions, that can become public views, of the people representing voters at both the local and national level. Thanks to Twitter, Representative Holt, this week, has given people in middle Tennessee both reason to know him and reason to be ashamed that they do.
It isn’t the $177,500 fine that Holt faces from the federal Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) for violating the Clean Water Act which is the cause for Holt’s recent notoriety. In private life, Holt, a factory type hog-farmer, has long expressed anti-federal sentiments, possibly because the EPA opposed his pumping of 800,000 gallons of wastewater contaminated with hog manure. It makes sense, however, if you are from here, to know that Holt is the vice chair of the Tennessee House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a frequent critic of the EPA, and continues to contest the constitutional right of the EPA to levy a fine on him for illegal dumping activities that contaminated the water in a free-running creek.
Leaving the water alone for a spell, Holt has now chosen to dump his effluvia on the internet. In his first act of the New Year, Holt took to Twitter for two days to send messages of support for the so-called militia members that have taken over a federal building in Oregon. The armed takeover is headed by the Bundy brethren, the off shoots of a Nevada rancher, the cowboy hat wearing Cliven Bundy, who brought us interesting news in 2014 during his own version of a standoff with the government over grazing rights on public land.
If you’re not from here you have to wonder why thinking people would vote to elect a person like Holt whose reactionary views certainly are not what people should expect of an elected official sworn to uphold the rule of law and to defend both the U.S. Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution. If you are from here you have to marvel that you can live with the embarrassment of having this guy as a state representative.
Although Holt took down his #bundymilitia Where can I send support for your effort? tweet , perhaps not understanding that in the world of the internet words last forever, or at least for long enough to be searchable, he also went on record this past weekend, fighting over several hours, using the new offensive weapon of the tweet, with the public. He got them all: liberals, gays, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, and a city councilman from nearby Chattanooga in his outreach. He also called the openly gay councilman “girlfriend”, took on protests in Ferguson, MO, and extolled his vision of the Constitution, all this as he celebrated the opening of a new year.
Although Holt is entitled as a private citizen to his own world view, as an elected official he is held to a better standard of deportment, or at least he should be. In railing against anyone who did not agree with his support for the actions of a clearly anti-government militia, armed and therefore potentially dangerous, that took over federal property in Oregon, are still holding it, and show no signs of leaving, those from here and not from here got a real look into who Representative Holt is and what he's all about.
The insight explains why Holt takes the legislative positions and anti-federal government views, he does, including support for big lick training barns and show rings. Holt’s short version is that no one or no entity, especially not the government ( apparently forgetting that the laws enforced by the federal government are constructed by the duly elected representatives of we- the- people ), has the right to tell anyone else what to do with or how to use and manage personal property or run a business. Fighting against government intrusion and over- reach into doing whatever- we- want- to- do, however-we-want-to-do-it, is a citizen's duty, as Holt sees it. As do all states-rights enthusiasts and anti-federal government fellow travelers, Holt justifies his comments by quoting the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
Taking the 5th and quoting the 10th is popular with anyone, including horse abusers whose actions are monitored by a federal law called the Horse Protection Act. To refresh the memory, the 10th says: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Rancher and militia guy Ammon Bundy, too, is a big believer in the 10th amendment but in the rule of law, not so much. He says he gets his direction from God. Holt supports Bundy'srecent actions in Oregon. We know thatbecause he's told us so.
It is further interesting to note that the hoopla going on in Oregon is being defined as an agriculture issue. The word agriculture is becoming the buzzword for a variety of actions and stands that place opponents of federal rules, regulations, and laws in stark opposition to enforcement.
It is no accident that Celebration CEO Mike Inman, in a recent letter to the Times-Gazette, stated his case against the PAST Act while arguing in support of alternate legislation supported by only a few congressmen and senators who “are from here”, as being ‘either for or against the elimination of agriculture’.
It is no accident that Rising Star Ranch, one of the big breeders of show horses headed to performance horse barns and animated flat shod trainers, lists itself as an “agriculture/farming” site on Facebook.
It is no accident that Thorsport’s truck racing division, after the public release of the HSUS undercover investigation of its walking horse training facility in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, affiliated its NASCAR program with Protect the Harvest, an anti-government regulation, supposedly pro-agriculture (as Representative Holt defines pro-agriculture) organization.
It is no surprise, then, that the 10th Amendment can be invoked in theory to give legitimacy to actual actions that go from dumping hog manured water into creeks to painting chemicals on the pasterns of show horses, all under the formerly good name of agriculture. This is a state's rights issue; the feds have nothing to say about it or so Holt and his supporters would have you believe.
In keeping with the attitudes of the people who are from here, those who frequently defend the indefensible when it comes to animal welfare issues, Holt said about his support for Bundy and his followers: “ I do lend my moral support to the Bundy militia, or whatever they call themselves.”
According to The Tennessean, Holt added (in retrospect) that although he did not support the method of armed insurgency, he did support the militia’s frustration with the federal government, arguing that the federal government has too much power over land in the United States, and speculating that activity like that taking place in Oregon was what was needed to bring attention to the issue. Holt apparently neglected to notice in his comments thatBundy'smilitia action crossed over from legal, as in protest, to illegal, when it became occupation, and that by failing to notice, Holt, himself, has now endorsed illegal activity as a legitimate means to bring attention to anyissue.
Reading Representative Holt helps those who aren’t from here understand a bit more why getting anything done at the national level on the Walking Horse cruelty issue has been decades in the making. This sort of mind set, with deep roots in state legislatures and in federal officials representing these states, is difficult to overcome.
While some will be appalled by Holt’s comments and his personal actions down on the farm, others will applaud him for standing up to the feds, just as they enthusiastically applaud and fund the actions of Representatives Scott DesJarlais, Marsha Blackburn, and other "from here" congressmen and women in the House of Representatives and, notably, SenatorsMitchMcConnell andLamar Alexander over in the Senate. They want these officials to push-back, hard, against any legislation that they regard as an intrusion of the federal government into their own private world of what they now think of as “horse- farming” and so far, they've gotten what they've paid for.
Post Script: In identifying who the players are regarding the PAST Act, it has recently been observed that in the Senate , the “influential Senator Johanns”, was no longer a co-sponsor of the legislation. The implication was that he had pulled his co-sponsorship and this was seen as a setback. For the record: former Senator Johanns ( and former Agriculture Secretary) did not run for re-election and left the Senate in January of 2015. That’s why you no longer see his name on the list of 50 active co-sponsors.