After being inundated with candidates’ TV ads and the constant barrage of campaign mail, don’t most of us wish this statewide election was over?
Fact is, Saturday, thousands of us will go to the polls to elect a governor after weeks of the usual hopes and promises — and mudslinging.
For sportsmen, the past four years of the current administration began with hope and promise before turning into a war of wills and words. While the battles have lessened to some degree during the past 30 months, there continues to be apprehension, a nagging what’s-coming-next question.
It started with the appointment of Charlie Melancon to head the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. It turned out to be a slap in the face to the folks who enjoy outdoor opportunities in our state.
After near year-long run of firings, intimidating pressure by what only could be called newly hired “henchmen” — Melancon called a sitting congressman a “liar” during a Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting — and lawsuits resulting from those staff firings, Melancon was replaced. (He said he was forced out.)
Melancon didn’t leave without firing a parting shot. In his last days at the LDWF, he released yet another attack on the eight years Robert Barham held the agency’s top job. Claims of gross mismanagement and misappropriation of funds were attempts to continually diminish the gains LDWF Fisheries made in battles for recreational fishermen’s rights in the Gulf of Mexico.
Those gains began long ago during Mike Foster’s eight years as governor, continued through Kathleen Blanco’s hurricane-filled years and eight more years of Bobby Jindal. During those years the groundwork for the state’s highly acclaimed LA Creel system was laid, then built while building relationships with coastal fishermen that were destroyed in this current administration’s first 12 months.
During those months, there was a philosophical change in state fisheries management, a move to turn away from the gains made by recreational fishermen on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council, and what appeared to be a failed attempt to discredit LA Creel, the country’s first, and successful, near real-time fishery data-collection system.
It wasn’t until a couple of months after Melancon left when it became clear what had happened during the first year of the current governor’s administration.
It was apparent the Environmental Defense Fund was the new elephant in the room. Under Barham, the LDWF’s representatives on the Gulf Council battled EDF’s continued moves to further hinder the recreational sector’s part in what was a war over the Gulf of Mexico’s population of reef fish, notably red snapper.
With a new, and apparently favorable, administration, EDF found an open door in Louisiana, and had the people to do it, to attempt to counteract what had been the LDWF’s objections to moves like requiring recreational fishermen to have daily tags to catch red snapper among other albeit slow gains on the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council made during the previous 20 years.
Despite attempts made by Jack Montoucet, Melancon’s appointed replacement, to smooth the waters, there continued to be problems.
One of EDF’s moves into Louisiana and into the recreational offshore sector was an often pushed, and oft-failed, requirement mandating electronic reporting after any and all red snapper trips. It was a direct slap in the face to LA Creel, which was making progress towards becoming the first federally approved state data-collection system in the country.
Then there was, in May 2017, the time certain members of the LDWF staff misled representatives of the Louisiana Charterboat Association, the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission and recreational fishing organizations about how the state would operate the upcoming red snapper season.
Both the fishing and charterboat groups left the meeting believing the LDWF would advocate the use of LA Creel to manage Louisiana’s red snapper only to learn the next day, from a LDWF announcement, it would use a plan to use part of Louisiana’s quota to create an EDF-backed lottery system. It was a plan to allow what appeared to be hand-picked fishermen to catch red snapper while other fishermen would be left out.
That plan failed, too, and while all this was happening, the administration’s appointments to commissions and regional committees appeared to turn aside — in some cases openly reject — recommendations for these seats made by recreational fishing groups.
In 2018, the LDWF found a sponsor for a bill calling for across-the-board increases in sport licenses — fishing and hunting.
Even though the new model decreased the number of licenses, the increase came without a corresponding increase in commercial license fees.
The agency was caught off guard when sportsmen’s groups turned a thumb’s down on supporting the increases.
While agreeing increased funding was needed for the LDWF — the agency operates without state General Fund money — the sportsmen’s groups' collective opposition was framed around the general belief that hunters and recreational fishermen have tired from years of their money going to support the varied commercial fishing operations under the LDWF’s purview. There would be no support of recreational increases without a corresponding increases in commercial licenses.
Then, this year, the current administration pushed for, and got, the State Legislature to end the state-taxes exemption for the Second Amendment Weekend. It was a three-day period, on the opening weekend of the dove season, when a hunter buying everything from gear, shotgun shells, bullets to ATVS for the upcoming season was exempt from paying state and local taxes.
Problem was the new law addressed state taxes only, and left parish taxes exempt, all because Gov. John Bel Edwards said the state needed the money.
Talk about angry. Big and little outdoors stores and gun shops ordered merchandise for the special weekend far in advance of the State Legislature’s decision, and some were left holding the bag, although some local stores continued to honor the tax-free weekend.
It prompted one store owner to talk about Edwards’ campaign ad mentioning how he’d turned the state’s deficit into a $500 million surplus after crying for more money just months before.
While the initial intimidation, angst and anger about that first year has subsided at bit, there continues to be a general mistrust in some sectors of the recreational community about another four yeas of having to fight about the same issues.
All this has been ignored in this campaign for the governor’s office. But it bears mention and review.