New Jersey Governor Chris Christie takes questions from the media on Aug. 29, 2014 in Seaside Heights, N.J.
Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty

Chris Christie’s pig bill wins applause in Iowa

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent veto of a pig-welfare bill may upset a majority of his constituents at home and animal rights activists across the country—but at least one governor in a political powerhouse state is singing Christie’s praises: Iowa’s Terry Branstad.

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Branstad, re-elected in November with the help of several visits from the Garden State governor and chairman of the Republican Governors Association, called Christie’s veto a “good decision” on Monday at a news conference. He also said that he spoke to Christie before the veto was issued to make both his concerns and the Iowa agricultural industry’s known.

The legislation, which would prohibit pig farmers in New Jersey from using gestational crates (which animal advocates and some legislators deem as cruel and inhumane) was viewed an early 2016 test for Christie, who is thinking about running for the GOP presidential nomination.

While pig farming isn’t a particularly big business in New Jersey, it’s a huge deal in Iowa, home to the first-in-the-nation caucuses, which kick off the presidential nominating process. In fact, Iowa is the country’s largest pork producer and the Humane Society has estimated that there are 1.1 million mother pigs in gestational crates so small that the animals can’t even turn around for up to four years of their lives.

The bill passed in both houses in the New Jersey State legislature in October with bipartisan support. The Assembly voted for the measure with a 53-13 vote, while the Senate passed it 32-1.  On Friday, Christie vetoed the legislation, saying in a statement that the bill was a “solution in search of a problem” and a “political movement masquerading as substantive policy.” He added that the decision should be left to the state’s Board of Agriculture, which currently doesn’t ban the crates.

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The veto has fueled speculation that Christie is simply trying to curry favor with Iowa voters.  After all, a Mason-Dixon poll from this fall found that 93% of New Jersey voters were supportive of banning the crates, which are 2-feet-by-7-feet for a typical 500-to 600-pound sow.

“The veto confirmed what we knew all along – that Christie is playing to the Republican support in Iowa to the dismay of New Jerseyans who overwhelmingly support it,” Democratic New Jersey state Sen. Ray Lesniak, who spearheaded the bill, told msnbc

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said, “This veto shows cynical political calculation from the governor and an obvious capitulation to special interests, rather than leadership or humanity.”

Lesniak said lawmakers will try to override Christie’s veto early next year. That would take at least two-thirds of the members of each house.

Branstad argued at the news conference that 2016 politics did not play a role in Christie’s decision. “This is an issue that most people in New Jersey have no clue,” he said. “They don’t raise hardly any pigs in New Jersey … This is something we do have knowledge of in Iowa, and I give [Christie] credit for listening to and understanding this is something we’re very concerned about.” Branstad also argued the crates in actuality protect baby pigs who could be crushed by adult pigs.

Proponents of the crates  also argue they’re cheaper than alternatives and necessary to protect the animals from fighting. They also bristle at government intervention in their pig-farming practices.

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Interestingly, there are only about 8,000 pigs in New Jersey and only “a handful” of them are sows, Matt Dominguez, a public policy manger for The Humane Society, recently told msnbc. “It’s a preventative measure,” noted Dominquez.

In the last year, the New Jersey pig crate issue has become a cause célèbre, with comedian Bill Maher, actors Danny DeVito and Edie Falco and businesswoman and lifestyle guru Martha Stewart all calling on the governor to sign off on the legislation.

Chris Christie and Iowa

Chris Christie's pig bill wins applause in Iowa