Plenty of Oregonians were flummoxed this week by the announcement that President Donald Trump had pardoned two Eastern Oregon ranchers whose prison sentence for arson inspired a rural rebellion against the federal government.
One man who wasn't surprised? An Indiana oil additives mogul named Forrest Lucas.
Hours after ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond returned home to Burns, Ore.—on Lucas' private plane—BuzzFeed News published a lengthy investigation that began to connect the dots between Lucas and the president.
Lucas is the financier of a lobbying group called Protect the Harvest, which campaigns against government regulation of nearly every farming or animal husbandry practice: chicken cages, veal-calf pens, and puppy mills. The public-relations wing of Protect the Harvest even launched a direct-to-video movie studio to produce flicks about, say, idealistic animal-rights volunteers who realize that dog breeders have been unfairly demonized by the Humane Society.
The Hammonds fit with Protect the Harvest's agenda, BuzzFeed argues, because they can be used as symbols of government meddling in the lives of good country people.
"Lucas's investment in the Hammonds — and the Bundys, who've been invited to Protect the Harvest–sponsored forums — is a means to an end," BuzzFeeed writes. "They have become symbols of the way many rural Americans feel they've been wronged by federal overreach, and Lucas, much like Trump, leverages those feelings to build support for one of his overriding goals: wide-scale deregulation of big business."
The story is a window into a culture war that will seem exotic to most Portlanders. But it's also a reminder of an old maxim: All politics is local. Lucas got the ear of the president through long associations with Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana state politics. Those bonds were forged through campaign contributions and a series of Midwestern state ballot measures deregulating puppy mills.
There's also another fascinating Oregon link: Lucas's right-hand man, an Umatilla County man named Dave Duquette.
Duquette, BuzzFeed says, got into politics because of feral horses.
Back in 2012, Dave Duquette attempted bring a horse slaughterhouse to his hometown of Hermiston, Oregon, promising much-needed economic stimulus to the area, but local leaders balked at the prospect of the town being equated with a taboo industry. Fast-forward six years, and Duquette is the “equine specialist” for Protect the Harvest. Duquette, who is rarely without his cowboy hat and a cowboy shirt embroidered with the Protect the Harvest or Lucas Oil logo, has spearheaded Protect the Harvest’s efforts to change the messaging around wild horse management from cruelty to benevolence.
One result of this? A Protect the Harvest movie starring Sharon Stone as an evil horse regulator. Read the full story here.