Idaho Dems ought to take advantage of the news coverage available during the legislative session and work on rebranding the party. There are several opportunities to support sporting issues. These issues routinely draw media coverage, and will also play against the myth that Dems are all radical environmentalists. I believe some hunters will vote Dem if Dems support hunting issues, and some folks will be more likely to give Dems a chance if Dems can dispel the “radical environmentalist” myth.
Many hunters in the state feel a bit under siege. (Most of what I write here also applies to fishers.) They worry about loss of habitat and about losing access to hunting areas due to privatization. I talked to a hunter over the weekend who told me that an area in the Bennet Mountain area, north of Mountain Home, is inaccessible to hunters. Apparently there is some federal (or state, I’m not sure) land that should be available for hunting. However, it is a hole in donut of private land surrounding it. The land owners prevent access across their land, so the donut hole became a private reserve for the landowners around it. This republican hunter also told me he’d vote for Dems if they supported hunting issues.
Per the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho had 161,000 hunters in 1991 and 151,000 in 2001. Per the Idaho Dept of Fish and Game, in 1995 Idaho had 235,408 hunting license holders. These numbers don’t match, but they give an idea. If hunters mirror the general population, about 2/3s are going to vote R, or (using the federal numbers) about 100,000. If Dems could peel off even 10% of that, that’s 10,000 more votes.
My ideas. 1) I’d like to see Dems support a bill to outlaw shooter bull operations, but with an exception for elk raised to be shipped out of state or sold as meat for personal or restaurant consumption. 2) I’d like to see a bill that restricts sale or exchange of state land that will result in loss of availability for hunting, perhaps placing a permanent sporting access easement that runs with the land. 3) I’d like to see a bill that places an easement of necessity on existing roads if the road on private property is the only access to state or federal land. 4) I’d also like to see the Dems introduce a bill to increase funding to improve habitat in areas of declining elk population, if the ID F&G identifies habitat as a contributing factor to the decline in that area. 6) I’d like Dems to introduce a bill that sets wolf population at, I dunno, something less than now but still allows a thriving population. This is kind of an effort to split the baby; wolf advocates will accept a smaller population if it’s reasonable, and hunters will appreciate the effort to reduce the population (except the really rabid anti-wolf crowd).
I don’t think it really matters if any of these bills get passed. The point is to show Dems responding to hunters’ concerns, and to drive a wedge between two R bases.