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Sen. Daines Betrays Montana Outdoors Lovers

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Writing Outdoors
by Paul Vang
for ButteNews.Net
April 20, 2015

Back in 1994, Congress passed a bill putting a temporary ban on the sale of assault-type rifles. It was a good law and it’s too bad that the law had a sunset provision, leading to the current proliferation of ugly, high capacity rifles that seem better suited to uses other than hunting.

Montana’s senior senator, Max Baucus, voted for that bill.

While that vote was likely in line with the sentiment of most Montana citizens, there was a definite reaction from some, leading to a proliferation of pickup trucks carrying “Ban Baucus” bumper stickers.

All those Ban Baucus bumper stickers made an impression on Max, and for the rest of his career in the Senate he went out of his way to stay in the good graces of the National Rifle Association.

Now, the question is whether Baucus’s successor in that senate seat, Steve Daines, learned anything from that example.

Unless you’ve been out of the country, you no doubt are aware that in the last week of March the United States Senate voted 51 to 49 to support an amendment to a nonbinding budget resolution to sell or give away all federal lands other than national parks and monuments.

That vote just happened to fall along the usual party lines, with 51 Republican senators voting for it and 49 Democratic senators voting against it. Our freshman senator, Steve Daines, was among the 51 senators voting for that resolution. We might quibble as to whether Daines’s vote was the deciding vote, as many critics have said. More logically we could point the finger of blame at majority leader Mitch McConnell and majority whip, John Cornyn, of Texas.

Our federal public lands are valued by hunters, anglers, campers, and other recreationists. We use those lands for hunting and fishing. We drink water that comes from watersheds protected by forests that filter and preserve water flows. It’s more than a Montana thing. Every U.S. resident has a stake in those public lands, whether those lands are in Montana or Alaska or Florida.

Still, it is a Montana thing, as well. Montana citizens went to the State Capital in January to show support for our public lands and our unified opposition to a package of bills calling for a transfer of federal lands to the state. The Legislature, while controlled by Republicans, who made land transfer a part of their 2014 party platform, paid attention to the people and killed off all those bills.

Senator Daines evidently heard that message and in a February 18 speech to the Legislature said, “We must stand firm against any efforts to sell our public lands.”

Senator Daines was either lying when he made his speech to the Legislature, or didn’t have the fortitude to say “Nay,” to the senate majority whip. Either way, he has proved he is not a true friend of Montana’s hunters, anglers and others who use our federal public lands.

During the 2014 election campaign, the Daines campaign aired ads showing their candidate wearing an orange vest and carrying a rifle, ostensibly showing his support of hunting and firearms. Five months later, his campaign successful, he says, in effect, “Public lands? Who cares?”

Fortunately, that resolution was “non-binding,” so it’s not law. It does, however, illustrate policies that Republican senators plan to carry out in the current session of Congress.

The big question in my mind is whether Montana voters will remember, in 2020, how Steve Daines supported our public lands when he runs for reelection? If they run more campaign ads representing Daines as a hunter and fisherman, will we still be dumb enough to overlook that he’s a phony?

I suppose there’s always the chance that Sen. Daines will look on all this as a teachable moment, when he learned that Montana voters expect him to vote for Montana values, even if it means defying senate leadership, and he becomes a modern Teddy Roosevelt and a champion for conservation.

I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one.

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