Inside Politics: 2006 vote
With a country at war in Iraq and increasingly hostile economic times at home, the political fervor over this nation's top issues will be on voters' minds Nov. 7. Sixteen DVMs vie for office.
With a country at war in Iraq and increasingly hostile economic times at home, the political fervor over this nation's top issues will be on voters' minds Nov. 7. Twenty veterinarians serve in the political ring, where public sentiment drags — only 29 percent of Americans say Congress is doing a good job (August, Associated Press-Ipsos poll). During this election, 16 DVMs are running for office or trying hold onto their spots in state and federal campaigns. Political analysts say 2006 will be marked with a "throw the bums out" sentiment, but the American Veterinary Medical Association wants the public to vote the vets in.
Sonny Perdue (Republican) Georgia Governor
DVM degree: University of Georgia
Opponent: Sen. Mark Taylor
Running for his second-term as Georgia governor, Sonny Perdue, DVM, announced he would eliminate state income tax for seniors.
It's a bold campaign promise that he says will add another $142 million to his tax relief plan, which already has tallied up to $2 billion since 2003, his campaign reports.
If he wins, it is on politics' most beloved platform — improving education, the economy, safety and reforming government.
And if you apply it to veterinary education, all accounts are Perdue remains supportive, recently pledging to Georgia Veterinary Medical Association (GVMA) leaders to support full funding for the veterinary college before he leaves office, reports Janice Hayes, executive director of the GVMA.
Last month, GVMA leaders Drs. Michael Yonker, Ed Mahaffey and state veterinarian Dr. Lee Myers met with Perdue to discuss veterinary medicine's key issues and pledge support to his campaign.
"He's been very good for veterinary medicine. It does benefit us to have a veterinarian in office. He is aware of the issues we have, and he took the time to listen," Hayes adds.
Will he win? Hayes stopped short of guessing. "He is a strong presence. And there has been a growing Republican movement in this state."
Cap Dierks (non-partisan) Nebraska Senator (unicameral legislature)
DVM degree: KSU, 1961
Opponent: Tom Noecker
Cap Dierks has always had a passion for two things: veterinary medicine and politics. So after running a successful clinic for 10 years, he decided to pursue his other interest. It began with serving on the local school board for 15 years, the hospital board for nine years and one year as president of the Nebraska Veterinary Medical Association. He then turned to the unicameral, nonpartisan Nebraska Senate, which he served in from 1987 to 2002. Dierks plans to once again serve in the state legislature, after losing his seat to a competitor following a redistricting. "Anybody who has the propensity to serve people should serve in public office," Dierks says.
Born in 1932 in O'Neill, Neb., Dierks calls the state home, having spent his entire life there, with the exception of his time serving in the U.S. Air Force ('55-'56) and while attending college at Kansas State University in Manhattan ('57-'61), where he received his doctorate in veterinary medicine. Dierks is married with four children.
Dierks, along with a fellow veterinarian, started his own practice in 1973, where he mainly treated beef cattle, while maintaining a sizable small animal practice. "There was a certain comfort zone," he says. "I was doing what I wanted to do and needed to do. The most difficult part was having to euthanize people's pets when their lives were about over." He remained with the practice until his retirement in 1992, so he could focus on his position as chairman of agriculture in the legislation. "I wasn't able to uphold my end of the deal."
By keeping his license active, running a beef cattle ranch, and inspecting one of the livestock markets, Dierks has maintained his connection with veterinary medicine since retirement.
He now hopes to make an impact on state politics by concentrating on real estate and property taxes, education and finances for local schools and natural resources and the advantages of wind and sun energy.
Jimmie Don Aycock (Republican) Texas House of Representatives, Dist. 54
DVM degree: Texas A&M University (1970)
Opponents: Edward Lindsay (Democrat); Nicolaas Kramer (Libertarian)
Jimmie Don Aycock's love for veterinary medicine derived from his admiration of his father, a poultry service worker. "He was a hero to me and I guess it just stuck," he says, adding, "veterinary medicine is next to God."
Aycock has lived his entire life in Bell County, Texas, where he was born in 1946. He attended Texas A&M University, where he received his doctorate in veterinary medicine in 1970 and was a captain in the U.S. Army ('70-'72). Aycock is married with two children.
From 1972 to 1998, Aycock owned three veterinary clinics in central Texas. He says the best part of working at the clinics was "just getting the fun of working with the animal and owners and this feeling that you're doing something that's good. What's not to love about getting to talk to pets and their owners and getting paid for it?"
He now owns a cattle ranch and does some relief work at local veterinary offices, as well as making a few house calls.
The inspiration for a run in politics came from an elk hunting trip when friends suggested he try his hand. This isn't his first foray into public service, Aycock was the director of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association, treasurer of the Central Texas College Board of Trustees and member of the Killeen I.S.D. Board of Trustees.
"I think most of my generation—the baby boomers— they just instilled in us that we were supposed to go back and make things better in your communities," Aycock says of his desire to serve in public office. It's what he calls "payback quality."
Education will be the main focus of Aycock's campaign. "I think government should be small and efficient," he says. "Do the right things and do them well." He adds that as a small business owner, he knows the frustrations that can come from legislation and regulation. "Every time you look up, there is someone who wants something."
He also understands the complaints from farmers and ranchers. "They'd be happy if the legislature didn't meet for the next five to 10 years," he says about their disdain over regulation involving property and land-use rights, and the strict rules regarding how a farmer's land can be used and what animals can be raised. He says the younger legislators don't have an understanding of these occupations. "I hope to bring at least a voice to some of these issues."
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. Incumbent Campaign finance: $5.3 million
DVM degree: CSU, 1985
U.S. Senate Committees: Armed Services; Budget; Commerce, Science and Transportation; Health, Education, Labor & Pensions; Veteran's Affairs.
Opponent: Jack Carter, Democrat, son of President Jimmy Carter.
Campaign finance: $1.5 million.
Veterinary medicine was not on the forefront of John Ensign's mind until playing softball with a vet in college, which led to volunteering at his clinic. "The first day down there that was it," he says. "I fell in love with it." So he changed his major from marketing to veterinary medicine, thus beginning 14 years of animal practice.
Born in 1958 in Roseville, Calif., Ensign now calls Las Vegas home. He received his doctorate in veterinary medicine from Colorado State University in 1985. The senator was named the Humane Society's Legislator of the Year for 2005. Ensign is married with three children.
Despite the all-night Las Vegas lifestyle, a 24-hour animal hospital didn't exist there until Ensign opened one in 1987. He opened another clinic in 1994, where he practiced until 2001, when his Senate duties forced him to sell the animal hospital.
Although Ensign doesn't officially practice veterinary medicine anymore, it hasn't stopped fellow politicians, staff and voters from asking for consultations about their animals. "While going door to door, I've had people ask me questions about their pets," he says. "I love answering these questions to keep my mind on veterinary medicine."
Ensign, along with Wayne Allard from Colorado, is one of two DVMs in the U.S. Senate. While serving in Congress, he introduced several bills dealing with animal rights and safety, including the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2005, which aims to stop animal fighting by making transportation of animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting a felony under federal law. He is currently working to pass an anti-horse slaughter bill, which bans the practice in opposition to positions taken by organized veterinary medicine. It passed in the House of Representatives.
While his love of veterinary medicine was strong, Ensign says watching the national debt and government spending rise, as well as corruption in Washington D.C., frustrated him to the point of action. So in 2000 he ran for one of Nevada's three representative offices.
Ensign served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, when aspirations of a larger political impact persuaded him to make the move to the Senate, where he has served since 2000.
Skills learned during pressure situations and tragedy while working at his clinics helped Ensign in his roles as a public officer. "Being a small business owner and understanding the differences of what the laws are is very important," he says. "I wish more would have that experience of what their world is like."