How Republicans use hunting as a “wedge issue”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2004:
WASHINGTON D.C. –With U.S. federal elections
constitutionally mandated to be held on the first Tuesday of
November, it is a verity that the stretch drive of any campaign will
coincide with hunting season, and that close races for seats in
Congress and state legislatures may be decided by whether or not
hunters descend from tree stands to cast ballots.
Already the incumbent Republican majorities in the U.S.
Senate, House of Representatives, and the greater number of
statehouses are scrambling to lure hunter votes. Lacking the chance
to pass legislation, their fall challengers, mostly Democrats,
must rely upon image-building and promises.
Few candidates are likely to actively seek support from opponents of
hunting, even though the number of active hunters in the U.S. has
declined to just 13 million, representing just 4.6% of the U.S.
population. Approximately 10% of the U.S. population hunted a
The Fund for Animals on January 22 distributed a list of the
10 states in which hunting participation fell fastest from 1991 to
2001. Included were Rhode Island, down 59%; Massachusetts, down
39%; California, down 39%; Delaware, down 39%; Illinois, down
31%; Iowa, down 26%; North Carolina, down 26%; Connecticut,
down 21%; Ohio, down 20%; and New Mexico, down 19%.
Eight of the 10 states favored Democratic presidential
nominee Al Gore in 2000, and are expected to favor the Democratic
nominee in 2004. Ohio and North Carolina are considered “swing
states” that could go either way.
Urbanization and lack of places to hunt would appear to be factors in
the decline of hunting in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware,
California, and Connecticut. Hunter access to land, season
lengths, and bag limits on the most often hunted species have all
increased in the other five states, which are still among the ten
with the most hunters and trappers per capita.
Thus hunting is declining even in states with cultural and political
environments highly favorable toward hunters.
Similar data included in the Humane Society of the U.S.
publication State of the Animals: 2003 shows that rates of hunting
participation have declined since 1980 in all states except sparsely
populated Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Those three
states overwhelmingly favored U.S. President George W. Bush in 2000.
The partisan split between states where hunting is in
steepest decline and those where it is of increasing influence is
relatively new. Democratic office holders as well as Republicans
have historically favored hunting. Until circa 1990 polls found
little difference in hunter preference between the major parties and
the voting patterns of other men in the same age group, region, and
That changed after then-Yale University undergraduate Wayne
Pacelle introduced British-style hunt sabotage in response to a 1986
deer cull at the Yale/New Haven Forest. Hired by the Fund for
Animals in 1989, Pacelle directed dozens of hunt sabotages around
the U.S. until 1994, when he joined HSUS as vice president for
Hunt sabotage in Britain caught on among disaffected working
class young men, who for more than a decade have often turned upper
class fox hunts into veritable class warfare. In the U.S., however,
hunters are primarily working class males. The young men who in
other demographic aspects most resemble the British hunt saboteurs
are in the U.S. the young men who are most likely to hunt.
Republican wise-use strategists found in hunt sabotage the
“wedge issue” they needed to capture hunter votes as a block. In
1986 only two states had anti-hunter harassment laws. By 1994, when
the Republicans won control of the House of Representatives for the
first time in 42 years, claiming the overwhelming majority of hunter
votes, 48 states had anti-hunter harassment laws, and Hawaii later
passed one. Almost all of the anti-hunter harassment laws were
introduced by Republicans, often working from shared drafts.
The coalitions formed to pass anti-hunter harassment
legislation kept going, funded by national pro-hunting and
pro-Republican foundations. In November 1994 they began enshrining
“right to hunt” clauses in state constitutions.
Then-U.S. President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, tried to
counter the movement of hunter votes toward Republicans by opening
more National Wildlife Refuges to hunting, fishing, and trapping
than any three presidents before him. But breaching the sanctity of
National Wildlife Refuges did not regain Democratic control of the
House. The legacy of the Clinton effort is that among the current
540 refuges, 311 allow hunting and 280 allow trapping, contrary to
the belief of 78% of Americans that hunting on national refuges is
illegal, according to a 1999 survey by Decision Research Inc.
Of all state level hunting issues, the most polarized along
partisan lines may be predator control in Alaska. The predation at
issue is not upon livestock, as in the Lower 48 where predator
control is done mainly to benefit ranchers, but rather upon wild
moose and caribou. Alaskan hunters have howled for decades that
heavily targeted moose and caribou populations are well below their
early 20th century numbers because of competition from wolves and
Fulfilling a promise uttered often by Republican candidates for the
state legislature, then-Governor Walter Hickel authorized
land-and-shoot wolf hunting two weeks after the November 1992
His successor, Democrat Tony Knowles, suspended most of the
lethal wolf control programs started under Hickel, but current
Governor Frank Murkowski campaigned heavily on a pledge to reinstate
wolf-culling. Upon election, Murkowski packed the Board of Game
with fellow Republicans known to favor predator control.
Alaska voters approved ballot initiatives banning
aircraft-assisted wolf hunting in 1996 and 2000, but the
Republican-dominated state legislature in 2002 passed a bill by
senator Ralph Seekins (R-Fairbanks) that in effect deputizes hunters
to participate in official wolf control work. Seekins in February
2004 introduced a similar bill to promote aerial bear-hunting in the
guise of predator control.
Starting in January, hunters using aircraft to kill wolves
may reach targets of 40 wolves killed near McGrath and 140 killed in
the Nelchina basin before the Alaska Board of Game meets from
February 26 to March 10 to consider additional predator-killing
measures. The McGrath hunters are allowed to strafe wolves from
their aircraft. The Nelchina hunters are required to land first.
Under Board of Game review will be proposals to extend aerial wolf
hunting to the entire state; eliminating the buffer zone around
Denali National Park that inhibits trappers from picking off the two
resident wolf packs; allowing hunters to shoot grizzly bears over
bait; allowing hunters to kill mother bears and their cubs; and
legalizing the sale of bear parts.
Among other items in the state-level Republican pork barrel
* Republican-authored state constitutional amendments to
enshrine a “right to hunt” cleared the Georgia senate on January 26
and the Pennsylvania house on February 9. Eleven states have adopted
such amendments since 1996.
* Fifty-five of the 62 Michigan house Republicans in
November 2003 approved a bill to reintroduce mourning dove hunting,
banned since 1905, but previously approved by the Michigan house in
2000. The bill appeared to be dead in the Michigan senate
appropriations committee in early February 2004, but senate
Republican majority leader Ken Sikkema arranged a vote to transfer it
to the judiciary committee, headed by dovehunting proponent Alan
Prominent Democrats have also recently demonstrated support
of hunting, notably presidential candidate John Kerry, who shot two
pheasants in a five-minute photo-op “hunt” in Iowa at Halloween 2003,
and Maine Governor John Baldacci, who quickly lined up in opposition
to an initiative seeking to ban bear hunting with bait, traps, or
dogs. Maine Citizens for Fair Bear Hunting submitted 102,500 voters’
signatures in favor of the initiative on January 27, more than twice
as many as were needed to place in on the November ballot.
The January/February 2004 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE reported
that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney shot ducks on January 5 with
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in southern Louisiana, and
noted that New Orleans Times-Picayune writer J.E. Bourgoyne, who
reported on the expedition, failed to inquire about the propriety of
Cheney and Scalia fraternizing while Cheney’s refusal to disclose the
members of an energy policy task force that he convened is before the
Supreme Court for review. That was before prominent legal ethicists
overwhelmingly agreed that Scalia should withdraw from any pending
case involving Cheney.
Wrote Scalia to The New York Times, “I do not think my
impartiality could reasonably be questioned.”
Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist told U.S.
Senators who asked for a ruling that the Supreme Court does not have
any formal rules or policy governing recusal of Justices. Responded
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers, “This has exposed
a gap in the ethics rules. Scalia is the judge of his own case.”
Dennis Kucinich campaign spokesperson Susan Mainzer on
January 29 announced that Kucinich, a longtime vegan, had the
endorsements of 18 prominent animal advocates and environmentalists
even though he was already effectively out of contention for the
Democratic presidential nomination. Among those backing Kucinich
were Howard Lyman, who with Oprah Winfrey successfully fought a
long-running “food libel” lawsuit brought against them in 1996 by the
National Cattlemen’s Association, after they discussed mad cow
disease on the Oprah Winfrey Show; Tom Regan, author of many books
about animal rights and founder of the Culture & Animals Foundation;
Jim Mason, co-author with Peter Singer of Animal Factories, now
heading the Two Mauds Foundation; Farm Sanctuary cofounder Lorri
Bauston; Veda Stram, long associated with the defunct Animals Voice
magazine and the active <www.AnimalsVoice.com> webzine; Lawrence
Carter-Long, now New York representative for In Defense of Animals;
and Mary Finelli, editor of the Farm Animal Watch e-mail news digest.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader 70, a longtime vegetarian,
announced on February 22 that he will run for president as an
independent, after polling 2.7% as the Green Party nominee in 2000.
If the majority of the votes cast for Nader in either New Hampshire
or Florida had gone instead to Democratic nominee Al Gore, Gore
would have defeated George W. Bush in the electoral college.
Instead, the votes cast for Nader enabled George W. Bush to win the
electoral vote even though Gore won the majority of votes cast.
The New York Post “Page Six” investigative gossip column on
January 19, 2004 confirmed a rumor first published in the December
24, 2003 edition of The New York Times that U.S. Senator Hillary
Rodham Clinton, wife of former U.S. President Bill Clinton,
recently traded in a 25-year-old fur coat for a new one. The New
York Post claimed a staff member had overheard a furrier’s wife
telling an employee, “Mrs. Clinton’s coat is a sheared mink, but
she is telling PETA and the press it is velvet.” Said Feminists for
Animal Rights cofounder Batya Bauman, “Some of you may remember the
campaign we waged against Geraldine Ferraro over the fur coat issue,”
when Ferraro ran in 1992 for the Senate seat that Mrs. Clinton now
holds. “She continued to make lame excuses for keeping her furs,”
Bauman recalled, “and we worked to defeat her candidacy. She lost
by a very small margin.”