DFL-controlled Legislature will tackle range of outdoor issues
Pioneer Press, 1/5/2013
The Democrats are in control.
This can't be underscored enough -- even when we're talking about hunting, fishing and camping. For the first time in 22 years, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party controls the Minnesota Senate and House, and a DFLer, Mark Dayton, is the governor.
As you drill your first fishing hole or plan your first fishing trip of 2013, the party affiliations of state lawmakers seem a distant echo in the chorus of our outdoor pursuits.
But make no mistake: These are the people who can set policy and spend money that can create a new state park -- or ruin one. And those in charge this year aren't the ones who were in charge the past two years.
From responding to invasive species to spending roughly $90 million annually of the voter-approved Legacy Amendment tax proceeds for the outdoors, there's plenty at stake, and it's the wise paddler, hiker, angler or hunter who'll pay attention to how lawmakers wield that power.
And remember: Everything's related. Politics is the art of deal-making, and the impending "big" debates over whether -- or, more likely, how much -- to raise statewide taxes can have an effect, however strange it might sound, on walleye limits and whitetail antler-point restrictions.
DEMS VS. DEMS
Republicans will play their part in the debates, but the disagreements that really will matter will be those among Democrats, because they hold the power.
I thought about casting some likely disputes in terms of "killers" vs. "huggers." By that, I mean the archetypal two types of Democrats who care about the outdoors: Those, such as hunters, who enjoy our natural resources with the eventual goal of killing a few animals for food, and those, such as birdwatchers, who enjoy them at a bit more distance.
The latter are stereotypically metro liberals, while the former are often outstate Democrats, including from the Iron Range contingency.
It's no secret that your average Ranger wants mining and logging expanded as a top job-creating priority, while the metro liberal wants environmental protections to take priority.
House and Senate leaders appear to have tried to balance these subparties. In the House, Rep. Jean Wagenius, Hugger-Minneapolis, will chair the Environment, Natural Resources, and Agricultural Finance Committee, while Rep. David Dill, Killer-Crane Lake, will chair the Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee. Such balances can blunt potential conflicts. For example, if Wagenius wants to support raising fees on frac sand mining companies and Dill wants to snuff out attempts to end the wolf hunt, each lawmaker can do so, at least to a point, within her or his turf. (By the way, expect both of those things to happen.)
But, of course, the Legislature isn't divided into killers and huggers, and such a simplistic breakdown breaks down easily, just as if one were to try to divide lawmakers along gender lines or geography.
For example, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, unlike Wagenius, likes to shoot deer and wild turkey on his farm, but, like Wagenius, he supports aggressive environmental protections for water quality and wetland drainage -- a Hugger-Killer under my failed subparty system. Which would make him a conservationist hunter, like most of us who hunt.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying no one knows how the 2013 Legislature, which convenes Tuesday, Jan. 8, will play out when it comes to issues affecting the outdoors -- and be wary of anyone who says he knows.
Here are some of the issues to watch.
Expect lots of action as boaters, angler and lakefront property owners clamor for action, and other groups seek funds.
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is planning to seek an additional $8 million to $15 million for a bubble barrier on the Mississippi River at the Ford Dam -- a bubble barrier, to keep away aquatic invasives, that might or might not be justified, given that price tag.
That project will compete with a number of other ones, including an $8.7 million request from the University of Minnesota's Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center. The DNR might seek more money for mandatory boat inspections, and boaters should expect to see a push to increase boat registration fees. Boat tags are the main regular funding source for battling aquatic invaders, and a bid to raise the fees failed last year.