Senate: Alaskans can't make sound decisions

Posted: Monday, March 27, 2000

he following editorial appeared in Sunday's edition of the Anchorage Daily News:

The state Senate on Thursday told the majority of Alaskans that their votes don't count.

By a 14-5 vote that crossed party lines, senators effectively tossed the will of the people aside and approved opening the way for land-and-shoot aerial hunting of wolves.

In 1996, more than 58 percent of Alaskans said no to land-and-shoot hunting.

The Senate vote says clearly the Senate does not care what Alaskans decided in 1996.

The Senate says Alaskans are not capable of making sound decisions about wildlife.

At best, Senate Bill 267 shows indifference to a resounding vote of the people. At worst, the bill shows contempt.

Our argument isn't against all wolf control. Our argument is against 14 senators subverting the will of Alaskans, fairly and fully expressed at the ballot box.

This bill is the work of people who don't believe in any public process but the process of convenience. In other words, good public process is the one that gets me what I want.

If the voters go my way, why, then I'll stand up and wax eloquent about the wisdom of the people. If they don't, well, then I've got to wonder if they're not deluded by Outside influences and too swayed by emotion to decide these issues.

Strange, but lawmakers love emotions when they play in their favor.

Yes, senators, we respect you as Alaska's elected representatives. Yet many of you don't seem to have the same respect for those who elected you.

So here's a news flash for the Senate: Try to remember you're not a collection of philosopher-kings. You've got no business looking down your noses at 58 percent of Alaska's voters.

If the Senate were taking a stand against a warped popular will demanding racist laws or some other moral outrage, then we'd applaud its courage and leadership.

Land-and-shoot doesn't qualify. If anything, most Alaskans said in 1996 that land-and-shoot violates their sense of fair chase and respect for one's quarry. Opponents argue that this isn't about hunting, it's about predator control, and that many voters don't understand the distinction.


Alaska voters understand the distinction and clearly told the state officials in 1996 that whether they call it hunting, trapping, culling or control, they're not going to do it by land-and-shoot rules unless there's a biological emergency. Period.

Lawmakers shake their heads and call for good scientists and wildlife management professionals, not deluded voters, to make rational decisions.

Yet when Geron Bruce of the state Department of Fish and Game testifies that SB 267 is poorly crafted, a regulatory nightmare and an invitation to abuse - as in shooting from the air - the majority of lawmakers dismiss his arguments. After all, it's not what they want to hear.

Professional opinions get treated like the public process. Some in the Senate only want to hear testimony that buttresses their arguments. Contrary evidence? Hey, that's flawed science. Why? Because we don't like it, that's why.

Now, there's rigorous thinking for you.

It's within the Legislature's constitutional power to gut initiatives, by amendment in the first two years after initiatives are passed and by repeal after that. But that power comes with the duty to use it responsibly and the peril of crossing the will of the people.

The Senate has used the power with shortsighted arrogance.

Senators may be in for a rude awakening when they find that arrogance won't set well with most Alaskans, even some of those who favor wolf control.

If the bill reaches his desk, Gov. Tony Knowles intends to veto it. That's exactly what it deserves.

After the vote, Sens. Rick Halford and Jerry Ward left the chambers howling and laughing, and there wasn't even a full moon.

They may not have the last laugh.

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