Lessons Learned Advocating for Maine Sportsmen
As the new executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine moved into my Augusta office yesterday and I packed out my prints, photographs, buck deer mount, commendations, and personal stuff, it was time to reflect on my eighteen years in this job. Here are a few things I learned, some the hard way.
Sportsmen are a minority and need allies. We must work cooperatively and collaboratively with groups and leaders both inside and outside the hunting and fishing arena. Alliances between groups that represent us and groups that represent environmentalists, landowners, and the business community, and good relationships with the governor, legislators, and state agency leaders are critically important. Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife serves all Maine people, not just those of us who hunt, fish, trap, and ride snowmobiles and ATVs.
If sportsmen are not part of the solution, they’re the problem. Most sportsmen believe they are experts on all outdoor issues and are not hesitant to complain about things that are going badly. But few belong to a sportsman’s organization, and even fewer have ever talked to an elected or appointed official about an outdoor issue. Stop complaining. Get onto the field and into the game.
Most sportsmen are environmentalists and yet consider environmentalists to be their opponents.
SAM’s primary tasks at the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and other agencies are to advocate for its members, generate ideas and initiatives (because state agencies don’t do much of this), challenge poor decisions and proposals, praise when and where praise has been earned, and work together as much as possible. Push, prod, praise, and punish.
Compromise is not a dirty word. I am especially proud of the work we did to combat domestic violence, including our compromise that allowed guns to be taken from those who abuse their families. The legislative process is driven by compromises, and success in that arena requires an open mind and an ability to understand how far you can push and how much you can get and how much you need to give up in order to advance your cause.
Persistence pays off. Many of SAM’s most significant achievements came only after years and years of effort and many setbacks.
Aggressive action is often essential. I was regularly criticized for being tough and aggressive at the legislature, IF&W, and elsewhere. If everyone loves you, you’re not doing the job.
Don’t make enemies if you can avoid it. Today’s opponent may be tomorrow’s ally. This is not inconsistent with the need to be aggressive.
Resident and nonresident sportsmen have a lot in common, most especially our outdoor heritage. We must respect each other and work together. When we fight over issues such as the opening day of the firearms season on deer, we are all diminished and weakened.
SAM must carefully prioritize its work. As one of the most important and powerful special interest groups in Maine, every outdoor project and issue demands SAM’s presence and participation. But SAM can’t do everything. The organization must focus on the most important projects and issues — especially those of statewide significance and impact — and concentrate on the things that can be achieved, rather than waste valuable time on issues that can’t be won.
SAM’s political action committee, SAM PAC, is a critical factor in making the organization powerful and influential. Everything we enjoy outdoors in Maine is impacted by the governor and legislature. It’s imperative that we are active in the effort to elect those who support our cause. Equally important, we must be in position to help those who help us, by supporting them in their political campaigns.
SAM’s most important work is at the legislature and in the governor’s office. We must be there with a constant presence, strong grassroots organization, and expert experienced representation. Nothing is more important than this.