Republicans tastelessly milk cow-shooting controversy

Cracking wise at the expense of innocent barnyard beasts killed under tragic circumstances might not seem a sure way to win the hearts of mainstream California voters. Yet that's exactly what communications officials at the state's Republican Party headquarters managed to pull off last week, with a bizarre press release that has pointlessly pissed off animal lovers — some of them elected Republican officials.

In the wake of the unfortunate police shooting of a pregnant cow that ran amok at the California State Fair, the GOP sent out a statement seeking to link the animal's death to the protracted battle over the state budget, asserting that the cops and UC Davis veterinary officials who offed the cow were somehow under extra pressure while "coping with the prospect of fewer vacation days or reduced office supplies."

Highlights of the statement included bad puns ("Let's get Mooooving on State Budget"); strange attempts at fearmongering ("How many more cows must die before Dems act?"); and worse puns ("This is bull. This is a new low for Democrats").

Actually, it might be a new low for the GOP — GOP press officials, that is. State Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, a Santa Clarita Republican who cochairs the state government's animal-rights caucus, said of the statement, "I don't think it was in the best of taste." He added, "It doesn't portray the party in a very positive light... I think there are hundreds of other ways of making the same point about the budget."

State GOP spokesman Mark Standriff defended the press release in a telephone interview. "From top to bottom, this was a state government issue," he said of the cow's death. Asked whether the release sought to make light of the incident, he said, "I don't know if you've asked the Humane Society the same question. The local chapter here is obviously using this event to perpetuate its agenda."

We decided to take Standriff's advice. "For starters, it's our 'agenda' to be concerned with tragic animal-welfare incidents," said an indignant Jennifer Fearing, the California senior state director for the Humane Society. "The Humane Society inserting ourselves into inhumane treatment of animals is right over our home plate." (The group organized a protest over how fair officials handled the incident.) Of the GOP press release, she said, "It's pretty cynical. I'd say of anyone looking to wedge themselves into the broader media coverage of this cow shooting, this is one of the more interesting spins. ... I'm really kind of blown away, the more I look at this."

Blown away. Now there's a pun for the GOP to trot out next time some poor creature finds itself staring down the wrong end of a police officer's handgun.

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