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Levine, Koretz head Assembly’s ‘Animal Caucus’

If you’re looking for an issue that cleanly divides the California Legislature’s Democrats and Republicans, animal rights would be right up there with abortion and gun control. According to the annual voting scorecard put out by the group PawPAC, 29 of 46 Republican legislators scored an F in 2005; 62 of 73 Democrats netted an A or A-. Only one Republican scored above a C, while only one Democrat was below that line.

But if there were such a thing as the Animal Caucus, there also would be some disagreement amongst its Democratic members. The more outspoken wing likely would be led by Assemblyman Paul Koretz, D-West Hollywood, while the moderates might be under the directions of Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys. Both have a long history of introducing animal-welfare legislation. Each also has his fans and detractors within a diverse movement.

“Paul Koretz is probably the best animal guy up there,” said Eric Mills, coordinator for the Oakland-based group Action for Animals. “He’s done more animal bills than anyone.”

Some have criticized Koretz for going too far. Some of the ideas he supports, such as legalizing ferrets, do not have clear support even within the animal-welfare community, say others.

“We want to fight winning battles,” said Jennifer Fearing, who recently left the
Sacramento-based United Animal Nations to become director of economic research at the Humane Society of the United States.

Levine has become a champion of this more measured approach, Fearing said. He got his start working on animal issues in 1997 as a legislative aide to then-Assemblyman Ed Vincent. He later became Fearing’s sometimes jogging partner, though both say they rarely talked animal issues.

In the current session, he has sponsored five bills, three of which are still alive. These include AB 1428, which would ban pet cloning, and AB 3027, which would set more strict guidelines for the proper treatment of captive elephants.
Levine is careful to draw a line between what he says are two different schools of thought in the movement. He counts himself as part of the “animal welfare” community, which want laws that are generally good for animals. But he does not see himself as part of the “animal rights” community, which wants to assign the same types of rights to animals that people enjoy. For instance, he said, he believes in animal testing, if suffering is limited and the work is going toward saving human lives.

“The animal-rights community has in some ways marginalized themselves,” Levine said. “You can’t be marginalized and effective.”

When asked to name other members of the “Animal Caucus,” activists come up with a short list of mostly-urban Democrats, such as Senators Debra Bowen of Marina Del Rey, Sheila Kuehl of Santa Monica, Liz Figueroa of Sunol, and Vincent, as well as Assemblymembers Wilma Chan of Oakland and Lori Salda

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