The Political Side of Exotics (Part 1)

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Uncategorized

As a former candidate for the state House of Representatives in the 110 district of the South Carolina General Assembly and a two time elected delegate for Republican Party, I can attest to the ways in which one can influence public policy in regards to exotic animal ownership. I have done it for years…and had great success at developing working friendships with South Carolina’s legislators.

The majority of the laws we live under come from our respective State Capitols, not Washington, DC. The State Capitols are where we as exotic animal keepers can make the most impact on legislation considering it is far more likely for a law to passed there, than in DC.

But over the years, I have found that more people are interested in what DC does rather than what Columbia, SC does. I guess it has to do with the media narrative making DC appear sexy, and that is a shame. When I was in college and later at work,  I found my peers and coworkers did not know the functions, powers and responsibilities of the General Assmebly. As a political person by nature, I found this appalling that so many people are not engaged in the state’s governing process. Needless to say, I made it my prerogative to educate them on the previous matters because these are things that directly impact our lives.

I do not care what party you belong to, it is important that you develop a relationship with your local officials. Join and become active with your county political party. They always want new volunteers. There have been numerous times when I have needed an answer, or to voice a concern, and have been able to reach a state Senator or Representative personally. Being involved in the political process is one of the most important things you can do as an exotic animal keeper. You easily become the face of the industry on a local level which has big policy benefits when something concerning arises.

As a candidate for the state House, I was always asked how I went from reptiles to politics. I always joking responded that they are both cold blooded. I always got laughs but always made sure to educate people about my collection and reptiles in general.

During my campaign, I always treated the reptile industry as a business that created jobs for many people and explained how many people are directly employed because of the industry. And I made it clear that lots of people would lose jobs should something happen to the industry.

At one point during my campaign, a constituent called me frantically because a copperhead was in her daughter’s yard. Her daughter had small children. I went and removed the snake from their yard. I think to date, that I am the only former politician to have removed a venomous snake from a voter’s yard in South Carolina! I always portray the industry in a positive light.

Anyway, what most people do not realize is that reaching members of their state’s General Assembly is quite easy. Many times you could actually see your Representative or Senator at the grocery store, walmart, or wherever and not realize it. That is why it is important to know who they are. You never know when you will literally run into them. Once you know them, it has been my experience to see them more frequently than not.

So basically, what I am saying is that everyone who owns an exotic animal needs to be proactive in the legislative process. Attend a meeting here and there. Send them an email. Go to their office. And make the exotic issue into one about JOBS. JOBS. JOBS.

Here is an example from this past March. While I was out in Utah working, there was a bill that got some attention in South Carolina’s House of Representatives. The bill would have banned exotics pretty broadly should it have become law. People back home were in panic mode over the bill. The bill only had 2 cosponsors which means that it does not have the support of the body. It would take 63  “Yes” votes of the 124 members of the House to pass that bill. The bill was dead in the water…it had no support.

But people were convinced the government was coming to take their reptiles. There was a lot of information out there that was incorrect which added to the panic factor of many people. That same day, I spoke to 2 Representatives and a State Senator who had never heard of the bill. After looking at it, even they were convinced that there was not support to get it through both the House and Senate, let alone to the Governor’s desk.

Being informed as to how your state’s General Assembly operates is very important because it can make all the difference as to how information regarding legislation is spread to the public. In the above situation, people were convinced that this was the end, when in reality it was not.

Stay tuned for Part 2

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