Bristol, Tenn., police officers talk with demonstrators outside Bristol Motor Speedway. Ned Jilton II photo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. - A small group of sign-carrying protesters tried Thursday evening to draw attention to U.S. Rep. David Davis' vote against federal dogfighting legislation during the congressman's biggest fund-raiser of the year at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Inside BMS' air-conditioned Bruton Smith Building, more than 300 Davis supporters either paid $1,000 for a "Starter Lap" or $100 for a "Final Lap" at the fund-raising reception.
In front of BMS next to Volunteer Parkway, protesters standing in searing temperatures approaching 100 degrees displayed signs reading "Dogfighters Love Davis" and "David Davis' Vote Is A Doggone Shame."
Davis' vote against penalties for illegal transportation of fighting dogs came under attack from the Humane Society in the wake of the federal dogfighting indictment against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
The Humane Society accused Davis, R-1st District, of giving dogfighters a "free pass" by voting against the federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Act (AFPA), which was passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in May - after the alleged crimes listed in an indictment against Vick and his co-defendants had occurred.
The spokeswoman for the protesters outside BMS was Greeneville veterinarian Vickie Howell, who said Davis' AFPA vote should have been a "no-brainer."
"It should have been a vote against dogfighting and making it more of a felony instead of a misdemeanor," Howell said. "It's kind of a black eye for the state of Tennessee and the 1st District."
Davis was the only member of the Tennessee congressional delegation to vote against the bill.
The congressman said before the fund-raiser that he agrees torture of animals is deplorable and illegal.
"I know these groups are trying to tie this to Michael Vick," Davis said. "I agree that what Michael Vick is charged with is deplorable ... but Michael Vick was not charged under this law."
The Humane Society said federal prosecutors delivered felony charges against Vick by invoking the federal Travel Act in one charge but noted Vick escaped further charges because the animal fighting allegations against him preceded AFPA.
Davis said another proposed federal bill in the works would penalize dogfighting spectators.
"We'll look at that and probably support it," Davis said. "I love animals, but I also love the Constitution of the United States, which has the separation of powers from the federal and state government. ... You don't need a federal law for everything."
AFPA makes interstate transport of animals for fighting purposes a felony offense with penalties of up to three years in prison for each violation. Currently, 48 states have felony dogfighting laws and 35 states have felony cockfighting laws, according to the Humane Society. Dogfighting in Tennessee is a felony.