Interview with Dan Kapelovitz, Animal Rights Attorney and California Governor Recall Candidate

Dan Kapelovitz animal rights recall cat
Left to right: Wink, Dan Kapelovitz

I was googling all 46 candidates in California’s upcoming governor recall election, as one does, when I got to Green Party candidate Dan Kapelovitz, an LA-based criminal defense attorney. In his official voter guide headshot, he’s wearing space age sunglasses, and his campaign statement says, “Can you dig it?”

Dan Kapelovitz animal rights lawyer candidate
Dan Kapelovitz in the Official Voter Information Guide

If you’re unfamiliar with what this recall election is about, click here for a quick primer

Not sure what to make of this, I pressed on and found a few thoughtful articles and tweets where I learned Kapelovitz supports voting No on #1 (the ballot question that asks whether there should be a recall in the first place), and he’s using his candidacy to push for election reform through ranked choice voting and proportional representation.

I’m very much in favor of ranked choice voting, but what really caught my eye was a section on Kapelovitz’s campaign website dedicated to an issue I haven’t seen any other recall candidate raise – animal rights!

From Kapelovitz’s campaign website:

“I’m an animal rights attorney who has successfully represented pro bono (without cost) many of my fellow animal rights activists accused of crimes related to their activism. Our mistreatment of animals is among our most pressing ethical issues today. During law school, I worked for the Animal Protection Unit of the Los Angeles City Attorney and was president of UCLA Law School’s Animal Law Society.

I support the Green Party’s platform regarding the Ethical Treatment of Animals … but believe it does not go far enough. We need to end factory farming. We need to end cruel animal experimentation. I also believe in legal personhood – protection of animals’ legitimate interests by advocates (which, no, does not include their own right to vote, but does include protections against torture).”

Indeed, Kapelovitz’s law firm, The Radical Law Center, offers all kinds of criminal defense, but provides pro-bono services for those arrested in connection with animal advocacy.

Getting serious

Perhaps stemming from his unconventional voter guide submission, early press coverage lumped Kapelovitz in among “colorful” and “eccentric” candidates, and they’re not exactly wrong.

Before graduating near the top of his UCLA law class and practicing criminal law, Kapelovitz was a features editor for Hustler Magazine, where he won a Project Censored Award for a story on depleted uranium.

He’s also an experimental filmmaker who produced a long-running, psychedelic, public access TV show called “Three Geniuses” and created a feature length film, “Triple Fisher: The Lethal Lolitas of Long Island” by splicing together footage from all three made-for-TV Amy Fisher movies.

But, in the weeks since ballots went out to voters, Kapelovitz, who supported Bernie Sanders in both presidential runs, has emerged as possibly the most viable progressive candidate.

Last week he was officially endorsed by the Green Party of California (he is not the only Green candidate on the ballot) and recently spoke to the LA Times among other media outlets, about strategies and views on homelessness, climate change, wildfires, ICE, election reform, and more.

Though he is busy defending clients and fielding media requests from bigger publications, Kapelovitz was nice enough to answer a few questions for Double Check Vegan.

What follows is an e-mail interview with Dan Kapelovitz, Green Party candidate for California’s 2021 gubernatorial recall election.

DCV: When and how did you become interested in animal rights?

Kapelovitz: When I first started living with a cat, and got to know the cat, I couldn’t believe people would want to eat an animal, and I became a vegetarian. This was around 2000. And then in law school, I took an Animal Law class, and we read materials about factory farming (from the factory farming industry itself), and I think everyone in the class went vegan that week. And then I worked for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Animal Protection Unit during my first summer of law school.

Dan Kapelovitz animal rights recall candidate
Dan Kapelovitz, Scooby, and Wink.

DCV: On your campaign website, you write that you want to end factory farming, end animal experimentation, and that you believe in legal personhood for non-human animals. As governor, what actions would you take to work toward these goals?

Kapelovitz: As governor, I would subsidize vegan food production and push for tougher laws to protect animals.

DCV: Your law firm’s website lists many different areas of practice, and at the very top of the list is “Animal Rights and Protection,” where you offer “pro bono services for those who are facing criminal charges related to their advocating for animals…”
Is there a particularly memorable case you could share where you defended an animal rights activist?  Is there a type of case in this area that you handle most frequently?

Kapelovitz: The most common case is where animal activists are protesting against animal abuse and then the authorities arrest them even though they had committed no crime.

I defended some activists who were protesting against horse racing, and the authorities totally violated their First Amendment rights, destroyed their cameras and arrested them. The DA was willing to dismiss the case if we went to what’s called an office hearing. Usually, at office hearings, they just discuss the case and then they don’t file charges. But this particular hearing officer wanted them to admit that they were guilty. They, of course, refused so the hearing officer referred it to the DA and they filed charges. I wrote a letter to the DA explaining how their actions were protected by the Constitution, and they finally agreed to drop the charges.

DCV: Regardless of the outcome of the election, do you feel optimistic about the future for animal rights, and achieving an end to factory farming, animal testing, and obtaining legal personhood? 

Kapelovitz: I think things are always getting better in terms of animals. More and more people seem to be in favor of ending animal exploitation. The courts are slowly starting to recognize animals as more than just property. So I’m fairly optimistic, but unfortunately I think it will take some time.

DCV: What’s your favorite vegan meal in Los Angeles? Or anywhere?

Kapelovitz: I like the food at a vegan Thai place called Araya’s Place on Beverly and Crescent Heights, and I also like a vegetarian restaurant called Bulan Thai in Silverlake.

DCV: What’s your favorite vegan meal to cook at home?

Kapelovitz: I don’t cook very often.

DCV: You may be the only candidate with animal rights in their platform. You listed your top three priorities in the Voter’s Edge survey as “Justice for humans, Justice for animals, Justice for the environment.” Were you at all wary that putting animal rights so front and center in your platform could be a turn-off to some otherwise progressive voters?

Kapelovitz: I think most progressive voters are in favor of animal rights and a lot of conservative voters are too, so I didn’t think it would hurt at all.

DCV: You are one of only a handful of candidates who advocate voting No on #1. What are your reasons for opposing the recall?

Kapelovitz: I’m not a huge fan of Newsom, and I think his campaign to tell everyone to skip the second question is irresponsible. However, I agree that the recall election was put on the ballot by right-wingers who know that they could never win a normal election in California. They knew the only way a right-winger could get elected is if they only needed a plurality of the vote. If the recall goes through, someone like Larry Elder could theoretically win the election with only 10 percent of the vote or less.

DCV: You are a proponent of ranked choice voting. Could you talk about how ranked choice voting could help elevate pro-animal candidates?

Kapelovitz: Ranked-choice voting helps all candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans. It lets people vote for their first choice instead of being forced to pick the lesser of two evils. It better reflects the will of the people because people don’t have to worry about splitting the vote if they vote for their first choice.

DCV: In 2015, you directed the music video for the Ariel Pink song “Jell-O” that featured found footage from the meat industry, and shots outside Farmer John slaughterhouse in Vernon, Los Angeles. 
Was highlighting the use of animals in Jell-O an idea you brought to the project? Feel free to share anything about that aspect of the video here.

(Warning: video contains slaughtered animal flesh)

 

Kapelovitz: The animal aspects of the video were my idea. The lyrics don’t really have anything to do with that. Farmer John’s is such a creepy place. It smells disgusting, like dead pigs, yet they have all these paintings on the walls of happy pigs. Don Bolles, who is on the record and in the video, lives right near there, and every time I visit him, I can smell the dead pigs.

DCV: If you ever find yourself daydreaming about what it would be like if the recall succeeded and you were elected Governor, what’s the first thing you picture?

Kapelovitz: I want to pardon people who have been wrongfully convicted of crimes as soon as I am governor.

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Final Thoughts

One hopeful takeaway from this interview is that if Larry Elder could win ballot question #2 with only a small percentage of the vote, an animal rights advocate like Kapelovitz could potentially do the same if more people knew about him.

There isn’t really a consensus candidate on the “left.” Many Democrats are voting for Youtube-influencer Kevin Paffrath, and some are voting for moderate Republican, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer.

Governor Newsom and the Democratic Party discouraged any already established candidates from running, for fear of legitimizing the recall. They’ve also been discouraging the public from filling in ballot question #2 at all. (If you vote No on 1, you CAN still pick a candidate for question #2 in case the recall wins).

One argument I’ve come across for encouraging Democratic voters to leave #2 blank is that they’ll be overwhelmed by all the choices and not send their ballot in at all – they want a clear message that all you need to do is vote No on #1 – that there shouldn’t be a recall.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of enthusiasm and organizing among Republicans who both support removing Newsom from office, and are voting for his potential replacement. One of the top three polling Republican candidates is John Cox, who has been campaigning with a live captive bear.

I want to take full advantage of my opportunity to vote. I’m voting No on #1, and Kapelovitz on #2. Whatever happens, I’d like to bring more attention to the issues Kapelovitz is campaigning for, animal rights included.

Links to other Kapelovitz interviews


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What’s this election about?

On September 14, California voters will decide two questions:

  1. Should Governor Gavin Newsom be removed from the office of governor?
  2. If Newsom is recalled, who should replace him as governor?
If more than 50% vote yes on Question #1, then whoever gets the most votes from Question #2 will become California’s new governor. With 46 candidates in the running, someone with only a small percentage of the vote could win.

California allows voters to remove state officials before the end of their term. The only requirement to hold a recall election, is getting enough voter signatures – 12% of the number that voted in the last election for that office.

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1 Comment
  • Bruce Mitchell
    September 14, 2021

    After deciding to cast my vote on Question 2, I began looking up info on the most acceptable candidates. Dan Kapelovitz stands head an shoulders above the rest, as the most progressive by far, also not least for his level-headed intelligence and wit. We desperately need such voices in politics today!

    Imagine a straight-shooting no BS Governor who gets right to the point every time and acts according to sound principles of justice for all. No more evil of two lessers. What a novel idea!