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Looking out for our animals

May 15, 2017

Tommy Brann, a freshman state representative from Wyoming, a West Michigan town near Grand Rapids, isn’t someone who puts on airs. He’s passionate about public service and proud to be part of the legislature, but still thinks of himself as “Tommy the Restaurant Guy.”

In fact, he spent Mother’s Day working at Brann’s Steakhouse and Grill, the restaurant he started when he was 19, not long after he graduated from East Grand Rapids High School. That was in 1971, and he’s been at it since, building a business.

Three years ago he filed to run for a state senate seat, but pulled out almost immediately when he decided it was over his head. He told a reporter he couldn’t even pronounce the name of one of the towns in the district.

But last fall, he decided he was ready for the state house, and won an open seat by a landslide. He told me he wanted to get into politics because he didn’t think many lawmakers in either party understood how difficult it was to run a small business.

Some of his ideas, including a college course on free enterprise that would use “Atlas Shrugged” as a textbook, are a bit outside the mainstream.

But he introduced a bill last week that may resonate with both conservatives and liberals. Brann wants much harsher penalties for those who are convicted of torturing or killing a pet, or companion animal.

If passed, his bills, HB 4332 and 4333, would mean you could get up to ten years in jail for killing someone’s pet dog. Frankly, as someone owned by a dog, my first reaction was that “this is great, but these penalties aren’t nearly harsh enough.”

That doesn’t mean Brann likes punishing people. He is, as far as I can tell, sort of a quintessential nice guy, who is quietly giving away half his legislative salary to help people in his district, and whose voice still catches when he talks about Howie, the Labrador Retriever mix he lost to old age a short time ago.

“He was a member of our family,” he told me. I knew what he meant.

Brann wants this mainly to serve as a deterrent.

He told me that about twenty years ago, some young women came into his restaurant and sat in a booth. “And I heard one of them say, if you want to get revenge on somebody, kill their dog,” he said. That shook Brann up. Later, he heard of a divorce case where an angry man slit the throat of his wife’s horse, and ended up with a slap on the wrist and a small fine. “It’s not right,” he said.

Whether his bill gets any traction is hard to say. It’s before the Law and Justice committee now, and he has both Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. He told me he’s gotten support from the Humane Society and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office.

But he told me that some of his colleagues were having a hard time seeing just what was so special about a dog or a cat. Well, there are about fifty million Americans that could tell them.

As for me, next time I’m in the area, I think I’ll go to Tommy Brann’s for dinner.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's senior news analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.