Pheasant-hunting Kerry top choice for sportsmen; Dean gives it his best shot

By Dave Kaiser

In today’s column, we’re gonna talk primary politics.

Where do the candidates stand with respect to issues related to hunting and fishing? Who should a devoted sportsman vote for at his or her primary or caucus? For those of you who can’t wait until the end of the column for answers, John Kerry gets the bird for his bag, although Howard Dean was a respectable second. When the time comes, we’ll compare and contrast the positions of the eventual Democratic nominee with those of President Bush, but for today, let’s just focus on the Democrats.

As of press time, Howard Dean, John Edwards, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton remain in the race. Let’s take each in order.

Governor Howard Dean was endorsed by the NRA in his gubernatorial campaigns, although the NRA website now notes that his relationship with them was “more platonic than passionate.” Nonetheless, Dean supports a hunter’s right to own and use a gun. Furthermore, he has been an advocate for conservation. He has said in his speeches:

“In our state we’ve preserved hundreds of thousands of acres, which will always be available for hunting, fishing, trapping, hiking, and canoeing, and will never be developed. The Vermont I left as governor in January will be the same Vermont a hundred years from now because we have been solid stewards of our natural resources.”

Nonetheless, some sportsmen don’t like Dean’s approach. According to the Washington Post on 1/18, “Dean later found himself at odds with some Vermont hunters when the state helped purchase a vast tract of land from Champion International Corp. Many sportsmen said they were infuriated when control over much of the land was turned over to the Nature Conservancy, an environmental group. New regulations were implemented on access roads used by hunters and on hunting camps. “He asked for our support and then broke his promises,” said Steve McLeod, who heads the Vermont Traditions Coalition, a sportsmen’s group.”

On the one hand, conservation is important to sportsmen; legal hunting and fishing won’t mean much if the whole state gets paved over for luxury condos and fern bars. On the other hand, pristine land without access doesn’t help anybody.

Senator John Edwards’ website doesn’t mention hunting or fishing, but he stated in an interview that “I grew up in the rural South. Everyone around me hunted, everyone had guns. I respect and believe in people’s Second Amendment rights” and “For a lot of people who work hard for a living, one of the few things they feel they have any control over is whether they can buy a gun and hunt. They don’t want people messing with that, which I understand.” That sounds promising, but other than that, there’s not much to go on.

Senator John Kerry is a hunter and a gun-owner. He has hunted dove, pheasant, quail, duck, and deer. He’s gutted them, too, a skill which might serve him well with media relations. He supported the “Conservation and Stewardship Act” and “Northern Forest Stewardship Act” to provide additional land and access for hunting and fishing.

Kerry has declared: “I’m a hunter, and I believe in the Second Amendment.”

What more needs to be said? He is a sportsman and therefore I expect that he understands what is important to sportsmen, not in an abstract poll-driven way, but through personal experience. He even spent time in Iowa last fall pheasant hunting. Was this a cheesy made-for-local-news photo-op? Of course, but let’s be clear: he choose a cheesy photo-op specifically for sportsmen, instead of some other interest group. Senator Kerry gets the nod.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich has said that “I have friends who both hunt and shoot. These are good people, they are not criminals, and they lock up their guns when not using them. I support their right to their hobbies, and I support the right to bear arms.”

Not bad, and fairly surprising, given that he is a vegan, and my experience has been that vegans usually don’t approve of hunting and fishing. However, he doesn’t have much else to say on the matter, other than that he supports subsistence hunting and fishing for Native Americans. I hadn’t thought about that very much. I suppose I’m in favor as well, although it is very much a niche issue and not relevant for sportsmen in general.

Last, we have Al Sharpton. Sharpton’s website notes that he is in favor of firearm registration, a position which is not favored by sportsmen (for reasons too numerous and detailed to discuss here). Other than that, Sharpton has had nothing to say on hunting, fishing or similar topics of interest for sportsmen.

In sum: Kerry gets the endorsement because he’s one of us, and he has put some effort into addressing our concerns. Next is Dean—he tries to work with us, but not always without controversy. Then there’s everyone else. So there you have it, a scorecard to take to the voting booth on March 16 (if you’re voting in Illinois). As for issues like foreign policy, taxes, gay marriage, and the rest, you’re on your own.