I remember three decades or so ago, as a young newspaper
reporter, asking a veteran state representative from my hometown
district about the “negotiations” behind a solid waste disposal
bill that was moving in Harrisburg.
“Son,” he said in a condescending tone that I still resent, “you
don’t want to see the sausage being made.” But truth is, I did. And
I still do. The politics behind government decisions that affect
sportsmen and management of our natural resources fascinate me.
For those of us who have ground up cuts of deer meat to make
delectable venison sausage, the process is not mysterious,
disgusting or negative. But for most of the rest of society it
seems, “making sausage” represents an ugly blend of unsavory
compromise and dishonest deal making.
A good example, of course, would be writing legislation to
remove our state’s ban on Sunday hunting and then getting it
approved by a majority of House Game and Fisheries Committee
members, the full House and then the Senate. It’s a complex
undertaking getting a piece of legislation on such a controversial
subject approved for the governor to sign — and as my father used
to say, the “horse trading” is happening right now.
A compromise is being negotiated on Sunday hunting as I write
this. The “sausage” is being made, and the secret recipe is being
unveiled. A majority of Democrat lawmakers already support the
bill. Republicans — who now dominate the capital — are desperate
to find a compromise on Sunday hunting. Some would like to see the
issue go away! And if the votes can’t be lined up soon, it may.
They don’t want to be seen as opposing sportsmen, hunting, gun
rights, private-property rights and less government intrusion into
our lives — all GOP ideals. But neither do they want to vote
against their long-time stalwart constituent, the Pennsylvania Farm
Bureau, which hates the idea of Sunday hunting.
The compromise that seems to be gaining traction is a proposal
offered by Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, to allow Sunday hunting on
private property (ironically, including farms). But the twist in
his proposal that may make it palatable to a majority of sportsmen
(and hence lawmakers) is that he includes state game lands among
private property open to Sunday hunting.
Moul’s initiative is unique, and it will resonate with many
readers. State game lands were bought by the Game Commission, which
gets no general fund money, using only hunting license dollars,
federal excise taxes from gun and ammunition sales, and timber and
mineral sales from game lands. That makes them different from state
parks or forests, Moul said.
“They are not owned by the general public, they are owned by the
hunters of Pennsylvania,” he explained. “They paid for them. They
are theirs. They are open to the public, but they are not public
It seems to me that argument is persuasive. And Moul’s
compromise — aimed at appeasing opponents of Sunday hunting such
as the Keystone Trails Association, which claims hikers on state
forest land would be endangered — may be adopted.
Interestingly, the man originally behind the push for Sunday
hunting, Rep. Ed Staback, D-Lackawanna, recently announced he won’t
seek re-election next year. At 74, Staback, who also authored and
shepherded through recent legislation that toughened state
penalties against poaching — a significant achievement — will
step down after 28 years in the House.
Although it’s true Ed has made a lot of legislative sausage over
almost three decades, when he goes, sportsmen will lose one of
their few true friends at the Capitol.