Unless you’ve been living under the rock, I don’t need to recall the facts this week of the tragedy in Zanesville where a guy, with a history of animal cruelty convictions released over 50 exotic animals (including obviously dangerous animals such as lions, tigers, a wolf, and bears) before killing himself.

It has become John Kasich’s decision to let an executive order issued during the final days of the Strickland Administration to ban exotic pets, particularly dangerous animals, as a result of a protracted negotiations between the Humane Society of the United States and the Ohio Farm Bureau, to expire that has generated international headlines embarrassing the Governor.

So, naturally, this has a resulted in a public relations blitz by the Kasich communication team to suggest that they are blameless for the necessary slaughter of over fifty animals.  The Kasich Administration’s argument is that they do not believe One of the main problems is that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (“ODNR”), the agency Strickland’s executive order would have put in charge of regulating exotic pets, has no permanent director right now as Kasich’s initial pick, former oil/gas executive Dave Mustaine, has left the agency to be in charge of energy clients for JobsOhio.

And that’s one angle of the story that has not gotten any real attention right there.  Mustaine’s brief eight-month tenure as head of ODNR is noteworthy for two things now: 1) his singular focus in getting legislative approval to permit oil and gas drilling in State parks, and 2) his complete lack of attention to the issue of Ohio’s dangerous lack of regulations on the ownership and care of dangerous exotic animals.

Kasich decided to let the executive order lapse, but with no real plan to do anything to replace and a plan in which the Administration acted as if it had all the time in the world to create an alternative, if they truly wanted ever intended to do so.  When they announced the decision that they’d let Strickland’s executive order lapse, the Administration announced that it would form a “task force” led by ODNR with all interested parties (special interest groups from the Humane Society of the United States, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and an interest group that represents the exotic pet owners and businesses.  But first, why did Kasich decide to let the ban expire again?

“He’s very much aware of the hardship this would create for small businesses and the owners of the species that are on the list but also is aware of the sensitivity of the intent of the executive order,” said Laura Jones, ODNR spokeswoman. “We’re going to do our best to get this worked out, hammered out, and be fair to all parties.”

Because it was a “job killer.”  Seriously.  And I’ve heard the argument that ODNR lacks the authority to issue regulations at all regarding exotic pets.  It was a talking point of the special interest group of exotic animal businesses that opposes any regulation of these animals under the legal theory that ODNR only has jurisdiction over “native” species found in Ohio.  And yet, if ODNR lacks the authority to do anything on this issue, it begs the question then why the Administration believes ODNR has the authority to promulgate rules in anticipation of a legislative solution that has yet to be introduced by the Administration (State Rep. Debbie Phillips (D-Athens) has already introduced a bill that would write Gov. Strickland’s executive order into the Ohio Revised Code this week.)

The “ODNR doesn’t have jurisdiction” is debatable among attorneys who have looked into the issue.  The attorneys from the Strickland Administration have already gone on the record to say this argument is preposterous.

Anyway, back to the task force, in announcing it, the Kasich Administration said it wanted “a fresh set of eyes” involved to look at the costs of such regulation… and then promptly formed a task force that involved virtually everyone involved in the compromise that led to Strickland’s executive order in the first place.  The Kasich Administration, it stressed, promised a “transparent” process–a political knock at Strickland, who issued the order after closed-door negotiations between the two main competing interest groups.  This being the Kasich Administration, though, it was not surprising that the first act of the task force would be to announce that their meetings would not be open to the public.

The task force was announced in April.  According to ODNR’s website which publishing the task force’s notes from its meetings, it didn’t meet for the first time until June, two months later, and that meeting was so perfunctory, the agency itself considers the July meeting the first real official meeting of the task force.  All in all, it has only four reported meetings.  In other words, this is a task force that despite have the framework of Strickland’s executive order already in hand as well as countless home-rule municipalities that have such a ban.

 Then the next defense, the one offered by Jack Hanna of the Columbus Zoo, is that there was no money for the ban. Funny thing about Jack Hanna, who the Administration was conveniently able to get as an expert to defend their handling of the situation.  Not a single news outlet (that I could find) has reported that Hanna is a huge financial backer of Governor Kasich.  During the 2010 election, “Jungle” Jack Hanna donated $7,500.00 to the Kasich campaign, according to Kasich/Taylor campaign finance reports filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.    Funny how he was motivated to come to the Kasich Administration’s defense, no?

So if only there was some legislative vehicle in which the Kasich Administration is known for mixing policy changes and appropriating money.  It’s a shame that the legislature doesn’t pass a state budget or something.  Oh wait, it totally DOES that, doesn’t it?  So if the issue was that ODNR lacked the statutory authority and money to make a ban, and the Administration totally intended to have some form of a ban, then why wasn’t it given the authority and appropriation for it in the budget?  We gave authority for “merit pay” in the budget.  We appropriated money for JobsOhio before it was functional.  Why not here?  Because it was not a priority for the Administration.  That’s the only logical conclusion.  Until Ohio made international news with footage of dead bear, tiger, and lion carcasses literally the rolling hills of Zanesville, Kasich had simply stop talking about the issue.  It clearly was not a priority for his first head of ODNR, and the fact that Kasich has yet to name a permanent replacement says how much of priority the agency have clear leadership is in his Administration.

The General Assembly this week just tinkered with the congressional and presidential primary calendar in Ohio for no other reason that to try to frustrate the Ohio Democratic Party’s attempt to force a more competitive congressional map in Ohio.  And yet, it hasn’t found the time in all the abortion bills and electoral disenfranchisement measures to pass a bill giving ODNR the authority and resources it claims it lacks to do something about dangerous exotic pets in Ohio, something Ohio leads the nation in injuries and death?

 The end result is that Kasich’s actions in this issue have all been driven by politics, not sound policy making.  Kasich let the ban expire, so he could tout that he had killed a “job-killing” regulation early in his term.  He touts his task force with false claims of “transparency” simply so he can make a partisan jab against the last Administration.  But there was no sense of urgency or drive to get this done.  Not like there was with SB 5, or voter disenfranchisement, or JobsOhio.  Even today, Kasich continues to contradict himself because he’s all politics, no policy.  He defends his own Administration’s failure to address the issue by saying its a “complex” issue, then falsely attacks the prior Administrations for not dealing with  it (even though Strickland did.)

 

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