This week, pretty much unnoticed, the deadline came and went for opponents to file challenges to petitions filed by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management campaign to initiate a law. This is part of the ongoing political battle over wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula.
The CPWM petition drive would create a new version of the law to allow wolf hunting, and it would take future decisions on designating game animals and put it with the state Natural Resources Commission instead of the Legislature.
Now, not everyone may recognize that petition campaign. But, if you signed a petition to oppose Asian carp in the Great Lakes, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting in the UP. If you signed a petition to allow active duty military personnel to get free hunting and fishing licenses, you signed a petition to allow wolf hunting.
Hunting and fishing licenses, money to combat Asian carp and invasive species -- which, by the way, would also make this initiative immune to a referendum challenge should it become a law -- those were “sweeteners” put into the petition drive as the CPWM campaign collected the signatures to move this initiative to the next stage.
So, now the deadline’s passed to challenge those signatures, to try and knock the number below the roughly 258,000 they need. In part because it would almost certainly fail. The campaign turned in 374,000 names. Do the math.
So let’s take a moment here to identify the players in this campaign.
The opponents are mostly animal rights groups, led by the Humane Society of the United States. They’ve already succeeded in getting two referendums on the November ballot to challenge the Legislature’s earlier efforts to allow wolf hunting.
The people behind the initiative are with pro-hunting groups, primarily the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, once a political powerhouse in Michigan, trying to show it’s still got some mojo.
In some respects, this is a grudge match. The Humane Society was a key player in the 2006 referendum challenge to the Michigan law that allowed hunting mourning doves. MUCC and other pro-hunting groups vowed, never again. That’s one of the reasons why we’re in Round 3 now of this imbroglio over wolf hunting.
The next step is for a state elections board, the Board of State Canvassers, to certify the signatures. The deadline is July 25th, and with no challenges, the question is almost certain to go the Legislature. The Legislature would either adopt it as a new law, or let it go it the ballot, alongside those two referendums on wolf hunting.
There will be a lot of pressure on lawmakers to pass the initiative, and make it a law. And that effort will have as its top advocate the remarkably effective state senator from the western Upper Peninsula, Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), a shrewd dealmaker who knows how to get what he wants out of Lansing. And he wants wolf hunting. He says it’s a local prerogative for Yoopers.
But the Humane Society and the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign, they want this to go on the ballot, where they think they have a good chance of defeating it. And here’s why: ballot psychology.
The more questions on the ballot, the more likely voters are to simply reject all of them.
That is also why the pro-hunting groups want to avoid the risk and expense of a ballot campaign. And, right now, it’s more likely than not it would pass and go directly to the lawbooks.
Which is why the anti-wolf hunting groups are already working on their Plan B. And that plan is to invoke Michigan’s “single object” clause in the state constitution. Article 4, Section 24, of the Michigan Constitution says every bill, every law, has to focus on a single topic. The state Legislature may not pass congressional-style “Christmas tree” bills with all kinds of codicils unrelated to its main subject. The same applies to initiated laws.
Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society was in Michigan this week and he says they believe they’ve found a fatal flaw in the pro-hunting initiative. It’s those “sweeteners” we mentioned above – free hunting and fishing licenses, money to fight Asian carp.
“These are unrelated issues and I think clearly violate single subject rules on initiative construction, so I think there could be legal action on that,” he says.
There are also questions about how this initiative would interact with the existing hunting laws.
So, even if lawmakers approve wolf hunting for a third time, it’s very likely that’s not the final word.