Political Animal


September 25, 2012 10:56 AM Democrats and Hunters: a Natural Alliance

By Ryan Cooper

Wilson Peak, via

[Ryan Cooper here, filling in for Ed off and on today and tomorrow while he deals with some family stuff.]

I grew up in Utah and Colorado, and after spending some time on the east coast, the importance of sportsman stuff like hunting and fishing to Westerners has become more obvious in my mind. Where in the East, especially the Northeast, those issues are second-tier at best, out West they’re a topic of major partisan conflict.

This tends to be a more state-level area of combat, but a couple days ago sportsman issues took their turn paralyzing the Senate, as Harry Reid brought up a test vote on a bill to give some support to embattled Senator Jon Tester of Montana—in part by bringing home 41 frozen polar bear carcasses that have been stuck in Canada for the last four years:

On its last day in session before the election, the Senate tied itself in knots over 41 polar bear carcasses that hunters want to bring home from Canada as big game trophies…
Tester’s bill combines 19 measures favorable to outdoorsmen. In addition to dealing with the polar bear hides, it would allow more hunting and fishing on federal lands, let bow hunters cross federal land where hunting isn’t allowed, encourage federal land agencies to cooperate with state and local authorities to maintain shooting ranges, exclude ammunition and tackle from federal environmental laws that regulate lead, boost fish populations and protect animal habitat.

Republicans keeled over in a dead faint, protesting that they were shocked, shocked! that the Senate could be used for politics!

Republicans resisted for a while Friday, contending the only reason Reid wanted the vote now on the bill long sought by hunters and sport fishermen was to benefit Democratic incumbent Jon Tester ‘s re-election prospects in a tossup race in Montana that could determine which party runs the Senate next year.
“This isn’t a campaign studio, It’s the Senate,” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., complained on the Senate floor Friday. “We’ve got responsibilities to meet. Let’s meet them. And leave the politics out of it for once.”

Reading between the lines, there is some interesting wrangling going on here. Hunters and fishers tend to be more rural and conservative, but also have a direct conflict of interest with the mining and oil interests that make up a large fraction of the Republican power base and profit directly from wrecking the biosphere. Out west, Democrats like Tester have exploited this conflict as much as possible, shamelessly playing up their outdoorsy sportsman image, with considerable success. As Christina Larson documented in two seminal pieces in this magazine back in 2006, this alliance will probably only get stronger as the effects of climate change take hold and become even more obvious. Massive infestations of pine bark beetles, say, or gigantic wildfires are worse for hunters than most.

Meanwhile, the artheriosclerotic partisan games here are morbidly fascinating. On the one hand, like Matt Yglesias explains, there’s a nice percentage in maneuvering your opponent into voting against a popular bill so you can run against them on it, either through a poison pill or other mechanisms. On the other hand, the opposition might just bite that bullet to deny you the victory, which is especially popular in the arcane and hidebound Senate. You can filibuster and just hope voters aren’t paying attention or the media will blame it on partisan gridlock, or otherwise fail to point out who made the bill fail.

Whatever the case, one thing is for certain: any whining about politics from possible the most nakedly partisan Senate party leader in US history may be safely jettisoned.


Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • c u n d gulag on September 25, 2012 12:04 PM:

    GOP POV:

    There are "hunters," and there are "gatherers."

    Republicans, are the hard-working hunters.

    Democrats, are the leech-like gatherers, looking for the low-hanging fruit.

  • kindness on September 25, 2012 12:07 PM:

    Most the hunters I know are fine with steel shot now required in shotgun shells used for hunting. I don't understand why Tester would insert language saying ammunition should be exempt from environmental review. It does matter so in this instance I'm glad it failed.

  • TCinLA on September 25, 2012 12:47 PM:

    As a born-and-bred Weste4rner who used to hunt till I came back from hunting people and decided I wasn't killing anything else anymore, I can say for a fact that only the dumbass We4stern rural idiots would want this part: "exclude ammunition and tackle from federal environmental laws that regulate lead."

    Sorry, out here in Calfornia (for example) the lead in bullets that is in animals that weren't taken by the hunters after they killed them is ingested by California condors - and it kills them. The same thing happens to any other predator higher on the food chain.

    As far as the polar bear hides are concerned, tough luck for the scum who shot them.

    Tester's not that much of a "Democrat" anyway. Screw this bill.

  • TCinLA on September 25, 2012 12:54 PM:

    As the only political sticker on my car says:


    Let's even the odds for the "hunters" - most of whom nowadays are the damn yuppies who go up on "canned" hunts where they put salt out just outside a protected area to bring the animals out where they are unprotected, so the idiots can blast away. And it's organized by those "western preservers of the environment" you mention.

  • lou on September 25, 2012 1:09 PM:

    First, let me state that I do hunt. However, I would be very skeptical about supporting a bill that combines 19 measures "favorable to outdoorsmen". Favorable to real sportsmen or the sporting goods industry? Favorable to real sportsmen or the guys that trape off into the woods armed with every technological gizmo the sporting goods industry can offer? Favorable to outdoorsmen and the economic species they pursue or ecological welfare of all species?

    And I could give a rip if Jon Tester is a Democrat or Republican. His being from Montana would make it difficult to test his affiliation for either party. So, cut the freaking political game here. Test each of these measures on their own instead of dumping them into a single bill but that would really be expecting too much effort from the wrecking crew in D.C.

  • JEM on September 25, 2012 1:44 PM:

    Thanks for linking to Christina Larson's articles. They were excellent.

    I'm getting pretty tired of seeing the Republican party pose as the champion of outdoorsmen while pursuing disastrous environmental policies. Humor aside, the real GOP point of view seems to favor private hunting preserves (a la Dick Chaney).

  • boatboy_srq on September 25, 2012 1:48 PM:

    Not having a dog in this fight, though having relations who do, I'm ambivalent about the bill itself. And Tester - who seems mighty Blue Dog to me - rates an enh-and-a-half.

    OTOH, McConnell's reaction is so over-the-top I'm inclined to support it - and Tester - just to get the old gasbag's goat. ďThis isnít a campaign studio, Itís the Senate. Weíve got responsibilities to meet. Letís meet them. And leave the politics out of it for once.Ē This from Mister we're-gonna-make-Obama-a-one-term-President? I would donate real campaign funds to hear every Democratic Senator quote this line every time McConnell (and DeMint, and Rubio, and any other GOTea obstructionist in that chamber) tries the very same trick.

  • G.Kerby on September 25, 2012 2:11 PM:

    Here in rural Michigan nearly every hunter/fisherman I meet is a staunch repub, who HATES "treehuggers". Why they despise environmentalists who are only trying to protect the land from the greedy bastards who would destroy it for a quick dollar has always been a mystery to me. I guess it's the Power of Propaganda.

  • evodevo on September 25, 2012 6:21 PM:

    Well, I don't know about Montana, but in most states where ducks and other waterfowl are hunted, the hunters are in favor of the no-lead regs. Lead poisoning of waterfowl was a big problem before they went to steel shot. Most duck hunters I know don't have a problem with it. And there are a LOT of people who belong to Ducks Unlimited and other organizations who keep a sharp eye on environmental degradation when it involves their waterfowl habitat. You would think that the pro-industry-at-any-cost stance of Repubs would be a factor in their voting strategy.

  • castanea on September 25, 2012 11:12 PM:

    "the 'hunters' - most of whom nowadays are the damn yuppies who go up on 'canned' hunts where they put salt out just outside a protected area to bring the animals out where they are unprotected, so the idiots can blast away. And it's organized by those 'western preservers of the environment' you mention."

    As someone who has spent most of his adult life in the Intermountain West, let me tell you that you could not be more wrong.

    It pains me to read fellow progressives shooting off their mouths about topics with which they are only peripherally acquainted.