Lessons To Be Learned from the Demise of The Sportsmen's Act

Advocates for The Sportsmen's Act of 2012 are publicly saying there's still a mathematical chance the legislation could find its way to the Senate floor next week. Privately, they're admitting it's time to get ready for The Sportsmen's Act of 2013.

So what can we learn from this sad chapter?

First, the defeat of this bill is arguably the greatest legislative disappointment ever for sportsmen. I say that not just because of the important habitat conservation initiatives that will die or be postponed by the loss, but because of the way this defeat unfolded.

This bill didn't die because of a groundswell of opposition, or vexing financial issues, or lack of effort on the sport of sportsmen's conservation groups. Instead it was killed when a group of senators decided personal and party vengeance was more important than serving the public's interest.

This quick recap--as told by sportsmen's group lobbyists--is in order.

The bill enjoyed bi-partisan support before and after the election, with more than 80 senators voting for it on various procedural votes. But then the GOP senators got furious with Democrats during an ugly debate in which the Dems threatened to change rules to prevent the minority GOP from using the filibuster to block bills.

When the Senate resumed work, The Sportsmen's Act was the first piece of legislation to come up. Suddenly, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) had four objections. And just as suddenly, more than 40 Republicans agreed with him, pulling the bill off the calendar. And because there are only a few weeks left in the session, that meant getting it back to the floor would be almost impossible.

After Sessions and the GOP got swamped with angry reaction from sportsmen, they worked with senate president Harry Reid (D-NV) to bring the bill back. But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D- CA) then felt free to exercise her objections over provisions of the bill dealing with lead ammunition and fishing tackle.

She was offered a deal to submit an amendment on the floor, taking those provisions out. Of course, that amendment would have been voted down, but at least she would have had the chance to go on the record opposing that part of the bill. She wasn't interested.

While sportsmen hate having politics intrude into outdoors coverage, this is a prime example of why it needs to be there--and why they need to be involved.

The public property necessary for our traditions is managed by our elected officials. They use the legislative process to do their jobs. If enough sportsmen had been touting the Act to their senators as "non-negotiable" before that procedural vote, chances are this never would have happened.

Let me put it this way: If this had been a bill about gun rights, do you think anyone would have used it as a piñata just to anger the other party?

Sportsmen who have paid attention should start getting involved now for The Sportsmen's Act of 2013. Supporters will introduce a new version in the next Congress. And if your elected representatives know this is non-negotiable, maybe this won't happen again.