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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

No political pay-off for anti-wolf Michigan state senator

The Michigan state legislature’s leading anti-animal politician—a zealous crusader for the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves and a serial exaggerator about wolf encounters in the Upper Peninsula—lost by a substantial margin in a Republican primary for the U.S. House seat in the state’s northernmost congressional district.

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State Sen. Tom Casperson, of Escanaba, received only 32 percent of the vote in the 1st congressional district, the state’s largest and most rural. The victor, retired Lt. General Jack Bergman, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, ran and won his first campaign with 38 percent of the vote in what could only be considered a political upset. Bergman, who also defeated state Sen. Jason Allen in the contest, will go on to face Democrat Lon Johnson in the general election.

Casperson had been at the center of a jarring MLive investigative series on how state politicians used exaggerated or completely fabricated tales of wolf incidents to justify stripping away legal protection for wolves and opening a trophy hunting season on the state’s small wolf population. He exemplified demagoguery at its worst, using half-truths, falsehoods, and distortion to advance policy decisions, and trying to cover up the mistakes he and his colleagues made by denying Michigan voters the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

He was the author of a state measure urging Congress to remove wolves from protected status under the Endangered Species Act, and pushed through a resolution stating, “Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

As MLive reported, however, “there were no children in the backyard. There was a single wolf, not three. No wolves were shot there, on that day or any day... It is the story of how Michigan lawmakers embraced an account that never happened, and it is the story of how they sent it to Congress for consideration—opening the door for a hunt.”

The fact is, Casperson lobbied the federal government to take away wolves’ protection under the Endangered Species Act, as a prelude to his own legislative action to execute a state wolf hunting program. Specifically, once those federal protections were out of the way, Casperson led the legislature to pass a state bill during the lame-duck session to make the wolf a game species, again using exaggerated numbers about wolf depredation derived from one farm with reckless management practices. When Michigan voters collected more than 250,000 signatures to correct this mistake and place the wolf hunting law on the statewide ballot, Casperson authored and the legislature passed a second law to give power to the unelected, politically appointed Natural Resources Commission, making an end run around the voters since the commission’s decisions are not subject to any voter referendum.

After being exposed for his fictional account about wolves at a daycare center, Casperson took to the floor of the state Senate and apologized to his colleagues and to voters, acknowledging, “I was mistaken, I am accountable, and I am sorry. Words matter. Accuracy matters. Especially here, with a topic that is so emotional and is so important to so many, especially those whose way of life is being changed in my district. A decision here of whether or not we use sound science to manage wolves, as with all decisions this body makes, should not be based on emotions, agendas or innuendo, but rather on facts.”

Voters saw through the charade, and rejected both the wolf hunting proposal and the measure to transfer decision-making authority to the politically appointed and unelected Natural Resources Commission—both bills sponsored by Casperson and referred to the ballot by voter referendum—by wide margins. Proposal 2 was defeated in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties, losing by a statewide vote of 64 to 36 percent, and losing by majorities in more than half the counties of the 1st congressional district.

Even in the part of the state where Casperson thought he had the most support, voters said no to the trophy hunting of wolves and said no to this power grab by politicians to take away their voting rights. They understood that there are fewer than 650 wolves in Michigan and that the law already allowed the killing of wolves when they threatened livestock, pets, or human safety. They knew that responsible hunters eat what they kill, and nobody eats wolves. They knew the use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves all could have been in store if Casperson had his way and the Natural Resources Commission was given the unilateral power to decide on these cruel methods without any checks and balances from voters.

Michigan voters said no to the scare tactics, myths, and downright fibbing about wolves. And last night they said no to sending the state’s leading wolf hunting booster to Washington.

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