Two years ago, outdoor sports columnist Dennis Anderson of the Star Tribune vilified my leadership of the House Legacy Committee because I had the temerity to change the funding recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
In a series of eight articles prominently featured in the sports pages, Anderson excoriated me because I believed that elected legislators should be able to change recommendations of the Outdoor Heritage Council. So virulent were his criticisms that I actually received a death threat from one of his readers.
Anderson’s main point was that the conservation, hunting and fishing interests in the state had been original advocates for constitutionally dedicating sales tax receipts to outdoor projects and that, as part of that effort, those groups sought and received approval for a joint citizen-legislative body to recommend projects to be funded. Anderson felt that there should be absolutely no deviation from those recommendations. He believed that legislators should not be trusted, given a history of environmental degradation in the state for which he blamed the Legislature and politicians.
My sin, in Anderson’s myopic view, was that in 2013 I believed that the council had improperly excluded $6.3 million in conservation projects in the metro area from ever being considered for a hearing, that it had excluded a land acquisition project for the Fond du Lac Reservation solely because of anti-Indian bias, and that it did not consider aquatic invasive species a threat to conservation, hunting and fishing interests.
In addition to accepting all of the council’s recommendations, I used undesignated Outdoor Heritage Fund money to fund these three projects.
Those changes generated a firestorm led by Anderson and joined by dozens of conservation and sports groups. Anderson even threatened Gov. Mark Dayton and the DFL House with electoral defeat if they dared to even consider these changes.
My position won the day on the floor of the Minnesota House, in the joint House and Senate conference committee, and by verbal agreement of the governor. In the end, Anderson’s threats convinced Dayton to veto the provisions. (Ultimately, each of the rejected proposals was recommended by the council, passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor the year after the Anderson outcry.)
Just this year, a council project for the White Earth Reservation has been removed entirely by the Republican-controlled Minnesota House. The White Earth project followed the process and was among the highest-ranked.
So where are Dennis Anderson and his horde of conservation allies and hunters and fisherpersons who believe in the sanctity of the council’s process? Nowhere. Where is the hue and cry? Silence.
Why is this happening?
Why the double standard?
Is it because the House Republican author and council member Denny McNamara, who had voted for the White Earth project during council meetings, flip-flopped and changed the council’s recommendation at the legislative level when he was in charge?
Is it OK for a Republican, but not DFLers, to change the council’s recommendations?
Is it because a woman proposed the change two years ago?
Or is there a consistent theme that some mainly Republican members of the Legislature just don’t want to fund projects on Native American land because they don’t value Native Americans’ religious freedom and their desire not to allow the hunting of wolves on their land?
Whatever the reasons, it is abundantly clear to me that Anderson and his allies in the conservation, hunting and fishing communities are rank hypocrites.
In just two years, they have gone from vocal defenders of the Outdoor Heritage Council and its process to silent and deadly collaborators in killing the White Earth project.
There has been no such high-minded sanctimony this year over process from Anderson and his adherents. Rather, only smug self-satisfaction that their Caucasian Legacy remains intact.
Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota House.