Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The most pro-hunting law in at least a decade, and conservatives voted no

One of the most interesting questions raised by the 2008 Minnesota Legacy Amendment was: what does it mean to be "pro-hunting"? Historically, it has meant believing going into the woods or marshes to kill animals and then eat them is morally acceptable, part of the chain of life. Access to places to hunt was assumed to be a non-issue, a given. However, increasingly, lack of access to good places to hunt is a big factor in the decline of hunting. At this present time, when evaluating a a group's politics or a law on whether it is pro-hunting must also include whether the group or law supports access to places to hunt.

By this measure, the Legacy Amendment, a fractional increase in the sales tax passed by Minnesota voters, was the most pro-hunting law passed in Minnesota in at least a decade. It has provided a huge boost to future hunting opportunities by dedicating millions of dollars to wildlife habitat every year. Another part of the Legacy Amendment, the clean water fund, is also helpful to hunting and fishing, by cleaning polluted waters. The parks and trails funding is related to hunting in that those areas provide opportunity for outdoor activity. Both consumptive and non-consumptive outdoor enthusiasts are likely to use these areas. The only part of the Legacy Amendment that did not directly help hunting was the arts section. I would argue that the alliance was politically necessary, and that the arts and hunting actually share something in common, but that is a topic for another day.

The amendment passed by 56% of the vote (voters who don't mark that section of the ballot are counted as "no" votes), and it is telling looking at where the votes came from. The most liberal areas of the state gave it the largest "yes" votes. The 5th congressional district, Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, the most liberal, passed the amendment by well over 2 to 1, the 4th, Saint Paul and the surrounding suburbs, was close behind. The general pattern was that conservative areas of the state gave it the least support, with general vote totals right around 50% support. The sixth district (Michelle Bachmann's), the 2nd (John Kline's), and the 7th (represented by Collin Peterson, a conservative Democrat) gave the amendment the least support. The one interesting difference was that the 8th district, always solidly Democratic, was also one of lowest levels of support. One explanation may be that that area contains massive tracts of public land, and numerous beautiful lakes, many probably thought the spending might not benefit them or wasn't needed. It is hard to say. The 1st district, the southern part of state that includes Rochester, and the 3rd district, the western Twin Cities, both historically moderate politically, gave the amendment solid support, but well behind the more liberal areas. Statewide exit polls showed Democratic voters gave it overwhelming support, three to one, independents split 50-50, and Republicans voted two to one against. The Republican party officially opposed the amendment, as did the Taxpayers League, a right-wing outfit run by an ex-GOP legislator.

The liberal urban districts who voted overwhelmingly for the amendment obviously didn't only do so because of the pro-wildlife elements that helped hunting. They did so because of the general pro-environmental package, and that progressive voters are more willing to pay higher taxes than moderates and conservatives. Progressive voters are also more likely to be in favor of arts funding.

The political right in the hunting community are quick to label progressives as "anti-hunting". While a number of avid hunters with conservative-leaning politics campaigned for the amendment, (Bud Grant is a prime example) the election results reveal that as an overall group, conservative voters aren't willing to do what it takes to keep a thriving hunting culture. While elements of the progressive base don't like hunting (demographic studies indicate a smaller majority of the liberal base is supportive of hunting as an activity than conservatives), as an overall group, the progressive voters are the most pro-hunting group of voters when the considering the complete definition of being pro-hunting.

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