If there is really a shift going away from the Republicans on the part of hunters, it reflects that we have a truly pro-hunting candidate in Mark Dayton. Dayton is personally connected to our activity, he continues to like bird hunting, a pastime he grew up with. He owns firearms, and supports the right of private firearms ownership while rejecting the extreme gun politics of the NRA.
These personal connections are helpful, but a long history of support for conservation and environmental measures, as well as a commitment to fund the DNR, unwavering support for the Legacy Amendment "seals the deal". Dayton, unlike some liberals, understands our concerns and the fact that outdoor activities, including hunting, motivate people to give time, money, and political support to conservation. An abstract commitment to the environment doesn't necessarily translate into boots on the ground resources.
Some of Dayton's positions should raise concerns amongst conservationists, such as his unwillingness to directly defend the DNR's new lakeshore protection rules which were nixed by Pawlenty. Dayton instead talks about the need for the DNR to listen to what the community wants. This was a case of just that - advocates of environmental protection and regular lakeshore owners demanding the government take action to protect lakes from a small group of wealthy owners who were destroying shorelines and hurting aquatic life by destroying the natural cleansing of rainwater that shoreline vegetation performs. To his credit, Independence party candidate Tom Horner did defend the lakeshore rules at a forum held at the Game fair in August.
Dayton also has close relationships with many Northeastern MN legislators who often take positions at odds with conservation and the hunting lobby. This includes the support of Bob Lessard, who to his credit, was a driving force behind the Legacy Amendment. However, he is part of the hunting community that sees wilderness protection and hunting and angling interests as conflicting. In talking about his political career, Lessard told the story of his first campaign for public office, where his opposition to putting a river under the protection of the Wild and Scenic Rivers designation was his primary motivation.
However, the overall package that hunters get with Dayton is very good. His main opponent, Tom Emmer is an avid hunter, whose main appeal to sportsmen and women is "I'm one of you", is actually the anti-hunting candidate. Contrary to the position of every hunting organization in the state, Emmer not only opposed the Legacy Amendment, he tried to repeal it after the voters passed it. His extreme anti-government views will adversely affect hunting in many ways. He will oppose other conservation measures and the aquisition of more public land. Since he wants to balance the massive budget deficit with no tax increases, that will lead to further attacks on PILT, the Payment in Lieu of Taxes that local governments get from the state when land gets aquired by the state. This will put in overdrive the anti-public land aquisition movement that is gaining traction in both parties. Given his allies, especially the NRA, Emmer will push for more unfettered ATV access and use on public lands.
Most importantly, Emmer's tea-party politics would accelerate social trends that are adversely affecting hunting. His attacks on working people will lead to less income for average families, and research complied by Ducks Unlimited from the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that when family income drops below $40,000, families are very likely to quit hunting. He will weaken trade unions, which will lead to less time off for workers, and hunting is a time-intensive activity. I can say for a fact that my good vacation benefits as a unionized worker have made it possible for me to participate in great hunting opportunities.
No matter who the governor is, lots of hunting organizations internal politics in Minnesota will be influenced whoever that is. Emmer will approach hunting as a question of cultural warfare, with extreme gun rights politics and likely emphasis on animal rights organizations as a main threat to hunting. This will make it much more difficult for us in the hunting community to have the kind of conversations that we need to be having but aren't. Children and their families today are under heavy pressure to participate constantly in activities that are part of an "achievement ladder": sports, band, arts, and other organized activities that will lead to better education and career prospects. This trend is negatively affecting what is often called "quality family time", a rising concern of many, and a movement to stop and/or contain this trend is being lead by prominent family social scientist Bill Doherty and other family advocates. Hunters and their organizations need to be acting in alliance with these advocates, as hunting and other outdoor activities are great ways for families to spend uninterrupted blocks of time together. Under a Dayton administration, such discussions and alliances would be possible and even likely, as his support for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities would be about the benefits to society - family, health, and conservation. Such discussions would be alien under a tea-party, cultural warrior governor like Emmer.