April 14, 1980 12:00 PM

In an era when political courage is almost a contradiction in terms, Democratic State Sen. James Gallagher, 47, all but blew the dome off the Iowa capitol. It occurred during debate on a bill requiring a driver who accidentally runs down an animal to stop and to locate the beast’s owner or notify the authorities. The penalty: up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail. “I can see stopping a car for a dog,” Gallagher thundered on the senate floor. “But a cat? You squish a cat and go on. I think we’re overcomplicating life.”

Gallagher’s own life has, of course, been infinitely more complex since he let that one out of the bag. Felinophiles jammed the senate switchboard with catcalls—and filled Gallagher’s mailbox with vituperation. One writer suggested an alternative bill to “allow the squishing of wasteful state senators without any liability.” Gallagher insists he isn’t a man who loves cat squishing; he owns three dogs and—yes—one random-breed cat named Princess. A technician at Northwestern Bell, he also owns a 50-acre farm in rural Jessup. There he and his five sons plant a thousand trees a year to create a sanctuary for “animals that have no place to go.”

His admittedly hyperbolic statement, the senator insists, springs from an old-school laissez-faire opposition to unnecessary legislation (“People are humane: We don’t need a law”). He also believes that the senate squanders too much time on nonessentials “like declaring a state bug or a state rock” while ignoring critical issues like energy policy.

His constituents in a rural district of central Iowa have come to accept Gallagher’s whimsy through two terms—and his latest outrage has apparently not jeopardized his reelection this fall. Even his senatorial colleagues went along and quashed the squish-and-run bill. Sums up the triumphant Gallagher: “I love animals. I just hate dumb laws.”

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