Agency seats are still political footballs in Pennsylvania
Recently, in this space, we lamented how everything is political these days, but actually, one aspect of outdoors public policy-making in Pennsylvania has always been that way – nominations to seats on the Game Commission and Fish & Boat Commission boards.
A story on Page 1 of a recent issue reminded us that it’s still that way, and it’s unfortunate. As a young newspaper reporter, I remember hearing stories about how governors and senators “horse traded” things like bridges and judgeships to secure commissioner seats for their cronies. But I’m not suggesting it’s that blatant now.
Looking back over my career in communications related to the outdoors, one of the things I felt pretty good about was serving on Gov. Ed Rendell’s sportsmen’s advisory council from 2003-11.
The main reason for the positive memory was that – I believed – we took the politics out of choosing qualified candidates to serve on the boards of the commissions. Under the guidance of sportsmen’s liaison Robb Miller – who by the way serves Gov. Wolf in that role today – we stopped the practice of board members routinely being renominated to serve multiple terms.
It seemed to me at the time like we broke up the good old boys network and created a process in which new blood was infused into the agency boards.
I see today how naive I was.
Members of the council on which I served conducted a thorough effort to screen and interview prospective board members for Game and Fish & Boat boards and provide recommendations to the governor about who to nominate.
As I recall, Rendell nominated one of the two finalists we recommended for every board vacancy, almost always choosing the person we felt was most qualified and prepared.
I thought then, and still think, that having high-quality board members capable of standing up to agency staff members and guiding the commissions is important. And sadly, commissioners have to be strong to withstand the abuse they take from disgruntled sportsmen.
Removing political cronyism from board member selection is crucial. It’s good for the agencies; ultimately it’s good for sportsmen who benefit from better public policy that results.
But it turned out that it didn’t stick, as our Page 1 story made clear. Vacancies on the Game and Fish & Boat commissions boards are piling up, the Democratic governor’s administration can’t agree with Republican senators who are demanding their friends or supporters be nominated.
And sources say everyone involved is ignoring recommendations from the governor’s sportsmen’s advisory council, whose members have dutifully interviewed and screened commissioners candidates.
So, less than 20 years later, we have returned to where we started. Back to the future … Turns out, this old cynic was fooled one more time.
But stay tuned, because they will have to make and confirm some nominations soon or the boards of the Game and Fish & Boat commissions won’t be able to operate with quorums.