How a little pig bill turned into a big political mess for Chris Christie

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New Jersey Democrats are wasting their time on a meaningless law just to make Chris Christie look like he’s cruel to animals. Or is Christie protecting the pork industry, even if it means leaving pigs to suffer?

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Those are some of the allegations being thrown around after the Republican governor vetoed popular legislation that would have banned the use of inhumane pig crates in the state.

One thing both sides appear to agree on: this isn’t just about pigs. Christie is a possible presidential contender in 2016, so any legislation he touches is subject to a harsh national spotlight.

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Christie’s veto was expected — he declined to sign into law similar legislation passed last year in the state.

Democrats suggest that has something to do with currying favor in Iowa, which has a big pig industry and is the site of the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses.

“Christie showed his true colors — stuffing his presidential ambitions with support from the pork industry,” said New Jersey state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor. Lesniak blasted Christie for what he called "capitulating to political influences in a state thousands of miles away."

Christie did face pressure to veto the bill from Iowa, including from its Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, who could be a key ally should Christie choose to run for president. He reportedly assured pork producers during an October trip that he would veto the bill. In 2011, he hosted a dinner for a group of big Iowa donors — including Bruce Ratsetter, who The Daily Beast notes is the former head of the second-largest pork producer in Iowa.

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But he also faced a significant push to sign the bill from animal-rights groups like The Humane Society of the United States, which organized a campaign featuring letters from Hollywood celebrities like Danny DeVito and Bill Maher. In a statement, Wayne Pacelle, the president and CEO of the Humane Society, said the veto showed a “cynical political calculation” from Christie.

The bill would have directed the State Board of Agriculture and the Department of Agriculture to adopt regulations that prohibit “the confinement, in an enclosure, of any sow during gestation in a manner that prevents the sow from turning around freely, lying down, standing up, or fully extending the limbs of the animal.”

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But it would have had little effect in New Jersey, which has only about 300 pig farms. The farms also do not typically use the controversial crates in question — crates that make it impossible for pregnant pigs to even turn around while in the crate. Only about 7,000 pigs reside in the state, according to a 2011 report. Iowa, meanwhile, is the country’s leader in swine production and inventory. And it is home to about 20 million pigs.

In a statement attached to his veto, Christie gave a nod to New Jersey legislators he said were working to find a problem where there was none.

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“It is a political movement masquerading as substantive policy,” Christie said. “We do not have an issue with gestation crates in New Jersey either; it is a practice not currently in use in New Jersey. I urge the legislature to stop using their law-making authority to play politics with issues that don’t exist in our state.”

Substantive or not, the bill was overwhelmingly popular in Christie’s state. It sailed through both houses of the legislature, passing the state Senate by a 32-1 count. And according to a poll from Mason-Dixon, 93 percent of New Jersey residents said they supported a ban on gestation crates.

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After passage and leading up to Christie’s veto, the bill drew considerable national attention — in a sign of things to come for the Howgovernor.

It was also fodder for “The Daily Show” and host Jon Stewart in a segment last week. Stewart pointed to past instances of Christie answering questions about his national political ambitions by saying he was only doing his job as his state’s governor.

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“Let me get this straight,” Stewart said. “Purely to advance his personal political goals, Chris Christie is going to veto a bill almost unanimously supported by the people of New Jersey?”

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“Well, I guess you can’t ignore the citizens of Iowa who elected you governor of New Jersey,” he joked.

Brett LoGiurato is the senior national political correspondent at Fusion, where he covers all things 2016. He'll give you everything you need to know about politics, with a healthy side of puns.

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