Sportsmen – Don’t Fall for Politician Doubletalk

As you might imagine, we spend a good deal of time talking to lawmakers about legislation that could cause problems for sportsmen or asking for their support for pro-hunting proposals.

Sometimes you get a direct, to-the-point answer like “yes, I support your position” or “no I don’t.”  But many other times careful listening is required.

The language of the lawmaker can be a crafty and evasive dialect.  To my knowledge, no one has yet to create a good “politician to English/English to politician field guide” for translating and no university has it listed as a foreign language class.

Whether you’re making calls to defeat California Senate Bill 1221, which would ban hunting bears with hounds, or working to support legislation such as HR 4089, which protects hunting, fishing, and shooting on public land, here are a few responses you might hear from lawmakers and a few hints about what they are really saying.

1.  The No Answer-Answer

Here’s the situation – you call, send a letter, visit, or email your representative about an issue and receive this response:

“Thank you for contacting me, I’ll keep your thoughts in mind as the bill moves through the process.”

Translation:

  • It could mean that your representative doesn’t want to tell you the truth that he/she is going to vote against what you’re asking but just doesn’t want to tell you; or
  • It could mean that your representative hasn’t yet made up his or her mind on the issue; or
  • It could mean your representative hasn’t read your letter or email and you simply got a form letter that a staffer quickly typed up.

Regardless of what your representative really means your follow up should be the same. Don’t let them off the hook!   Follow up with another phone call, visit, or letter and ask them to clarify where they stand.  Have other sportsmen, friends, and family do the same thing.  Let them know that you appreciate them keeping you in their thoughts but that you want where they stand to know when they’ve make up their mind.

We received an example of the No Answer-Answer in a letter from U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan in response to our request that she support S. 2066, which is now a part of the HR 4089, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act.   Senator Stabenow is a key vote, so it will be important for Michigan hunters and shooters to contact her as she decides.

2.  That’s Not My Intent

Another situation that comes up more than it should  occurs when a lawmaker introduces a bill that contains potentially harmful language to hunting.  Let’s use the example of an “animal cruelty” bill that makes it illegal to “intentionally injure or kill an animal” with no exception for hunting, fishing, or trapping.

You go to the representative to let him/her know that the bill could be interpreted to prohibit hunting (or fishing and trapping) because hunters go into the woods with the intent to kill game.  The representative gives you one of these responses and in the same breath also refuses to change anything in the bill to clarify that hunting will not be considered animal cruelty:

“No one would ever interpret my bill to ban hunting!” or “That’s not what I meant.”

Here’s what this answer could mean:

  • The representative doesn’t understand that there are plenty of anti-hunters out there that would jump at the opportunity to use this ambiguous language to file a lawsuit to try and ban hunting, fishing, or trapping; or
  • The representative might be telling you that he/she doesn’t care about the impact it could have on sportsmen.

If you get either of these answers, work to educate the lawmaker how anti-hunting groups could use the bill against sportsmen.  If unwilling to listen, it’s time to start spreading the word to other sportsmen that the bill is bad news, so that the legislator receives more feedback.

Don’t allow the elected official to convince you to leave it alone.  The U.S. Sportsmen Alliance Foundation’s Legal Defense Fund was created because of lawsuits that exploit vague language that was likely created in much the same fashion.

3.  I’m Always Looking Out for Sportsmen

You’re visiting your representative on a specific issue and before you can ask where he or she stands on the bill they cut you off and reply:

“Don’t worry, I’m always looking out for sportsmen.”

It’s great to have a representative looking out for sportsmen.  However, the problem with this answer is it doesn’t tell you if the representative has your back on this issue.  Often times this answer is used as a distraction that keeps them off the hot seat from having to commit to a side.

If you get this answer follow up with: “We appreciate having you on our side and we can really use your support on this issue.  Can we count on your vote?”  In the end, you need a commitment from the legislator that he or she is on our side on this issue, not just sportsmen generally.

What type of answers have you gotten from lawmakers that leave you scratching your head?