IHE: You co-founded the Compassionate Living Project with your husband, IHE M.Ed. graduate Neil Hornish, so you’ve done quite a lot of humane education, but more recently, you’ve been elected as a state representative for Connecticut. What made you decide to enter the political spectrum?
RAH: My animal advocacy has led me along various paths. In recent years that included the political arena. In correspondence with my own Representative, it soon became apparent that we held diametrically opposite positions on certain issues. When the election year approached and I learned that my Representative did not have a challenger, I decided that I would run against him myself. My campaign had a strong message of diversity, which included not only issues of social justice -- including environmental and animal protection -- but helping small business and microbusiness enterprises. The campaign was incredibly time-consuming, and I could not have done it without the support of my husband. I canvassed my district on bicycle and knocked on many doors. In the end, I won over an eighteen-year incumbent by a 4% margin in each of the four towns that I represent.
IHE: What have been some of the successes and challenges of your first term?
RAH: Enacting change through laws can be an arduous process. Passing legislation often takes years, with each session gaining slightly more ground. In some cases, the success is not measured in passing beneficial laws, but in preventing the passage of harmful laws.
The vast majority of my successes were initiatives that promoted job growth, with a focus on helping small businesses, microbusinesses, and green businesses. There were many ways to encourage these objectives (e.g., tax credit incentives, student loan forgiveness for studies in certain fields, loans for small businesses).
I’ve also had success with animal issues. I have championed a bill that would allow students to opt out of dissections. The bill passed out of committee and through the House with a great deal of support, but unfortunately, time ran out in the session before the Senate could vote on the bill. Some bills of which I was a leading advocate made it into law: Connecticut’s “Pet Lemon Law,” which will fight puppy mills by promoting transparency to consumers (in terms of clearly posting the origin of the dogs) and through reimbursement for veterinary costs (health problems are common in dogs who have originated in puppy mills), and the “Tethering” law, which deals with helping dogs who are cruelly tethered. I also initiated and co-chair a new group, Legislators for Animal Advocacy (LAA), which will work to educate legislators and foster humane policies. The organization is only the second of its kind in the country -- California introduced the first earlier this year. Response from legislators and the public has been very positive.
IHE: You’re on the Commerce, Education, and Environment committees, three committees which can potentially wield a lot of power in helping create a better world. How did this come about?
RAH: At the beginning of the legislative term, which is two years for state Representatives and Senators in Connecticut, each legislator provides a list of committees on which they would like to sit to the leadership, and the leadership decided who will be on which committee. Luckily these were my three top choices. I chose the Environment Committee because of my passion for protecting the environment, and virtually all animal protection bills pass through this committee. I chose the Education Committee because I understand the necessity to provide students with a quality education and opportunities to pique their desire for knowledge. I chose the Commerce Committee to help local businesses and to assist in the implementation of green business methods.
IHE: How have you been able to infuse humane education values into your work?
RAH: Legislative Committees are in many ways similar to school classrooms. The committee members meet to address a certain issue, gather information from the public, lobbyists, and experts, and then debate the issue before voting on the bill. This presents many opportunities for humane education. During my first term, I have had the opportunity in public hearings, press conferences, and committee meetings to discuss issues such as animals in factory farms (intense confinement), alternatives to plastic shopping bags, the impact of plastic bottles on the environment, students’ choice regarding participation in dissections, compassionate alternatives to hunting and trapping, hunting’s negative impact on ecosystems, and the cruel treatment of animals in circuses and traveling shows.
IHE: What suggestions do you have for citizens who’d like to help get laws passed that support a humane world? What should they know?
RAH: There are a number of ways to become involved. First, consider running for a political position, at any level of government. Even positions at the local level present opportunities to promote humane policies. If people choose to advocate for humane legislation, I would suggest developing a relationship with the elected officials in your district. Join a local advocacy group that understands how the legislative process works and that is committed to developing a strong, organized voting bloc. I strongly recommend as required reading Get Political for Animals by Julie Lewin. It is an excellent guidebook on understanding the process for how laws and policies are passed. While it was written for animal advocacy, the information presented can work for any social justice issue.
IHE: What do you see happening in the world that gives you hope for a more just, compassionate, sustainable future?
RAH: The past couple of years have witnessed the most economically challenging times in decades. The media has focused on the negative reactions of certain groups, such as the volatile and occasionally violent reactions during the health care debate. However, in my position as a legislator, I have had the opportunity to hear from a large number of constituents who, even during these difficult times, have expressed a strong desire to support social justice issues that preserve the environment, protect animals, and maintain justice and equality.
IHE: What are the biggest challenges in creating a humane world?
RAH: The biggest challenge is getting people to listen to the information they need, and to work together to make compassionate choices. Often the information is controlled by the entities that have the most to gain from the exploitation of people, animals, and the environment. These entities have the funds to run advertising campaigns, hire lobbyists, and contribute to political campaigns. This results in not only inundating the public with biased or misleading information, but also allows these entities exceptional influence in determining public policy. Fortunately, the information to counter those who would exploit people, animals, or the environment is now more than ever readily available through the Internet. Often different social justice groups are focused on their own particular interest without understanding the interrelationships between their group and others’ groups.
IHE: What advice do you have for aspiring changemakers?
RAH: I would advise that once you determine what it is that you want to change, you must apply your strengths. Some people are great at public speaking, some people are good at research, some at generating funding, and others may find the political arena intriguing. No matter what you do, it’s important that you demand change from the government (local, state, and federal) that represents you. I think that it’s important to remember that while others are working on different social justice issues, there are many areas of common interest, and it is important not to compromise other social justice issues while working to advance your own.
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