Mike DeWine headlines the Sportsmen Alliance Save Our Heritage Rally
Approximately 500 sportsmen from across the state converged on the Villa Milano Banquet Center in Columbus for the 22nd annual Save Our Heritage Rally. The event featured many games, raffles, live and silent auctions, plus the opportunity to renew friendships. The Sportsmen Alliance had widely promoted the appearance of gubernatorial candidates Mike DeWine (R) and Richard Cordray (D) as keynote speakers.
Prior to the primary election, the Sportsmen Alliance (SA) led a coalition of statewide sportsmen partners in meetings with many of the candidates, including DeWine, Cordray, Jon Husted, Mary Taylor, Joe Schiavoni and Jim Renacci (prior to his switch to the Ohio Senate race). The goal was to reconnect sportsmen organizations with the candidates. The questions and answers were published by the SA to give sportsmen more insight into the candidate positions on issues of importance. The Save Our Heritage Rally promised to be the culmination of that process with both major party candidates appearing. The format was for each to present their sportsmen platform and answering pre-submitted questions from the attendees.
However, about 24-hours before the event, the Cordray Campaign unexpectedly informed the SA leadership that Mr. Cordray would not be appearing. This was certainly a surprise as the candidates had confirmed their appearance several months prior to the event. The SA was left with "egg on their face" after promoting the event as a chance for sportsmen to hear both candidates. It was a major disappointment with many guests shaking their head over the apparent snub by the Cordray campaign. Several wonder loudly, if Mr. Cordray would go back on his commitment to appear, how important will sportsmen issues be later?
However, that left the podium to Mr. DeWine to address the crowd and answer the questions. DeWine, accompanied by his wife Fran, had spent time talking to the crowd prior to speaking and appeared relaxed. He noted that his fiftieth wedding anniversary was spent at Lake Erie where they caught perch and walleye.
DeWine said, "Within this room are people who care very passionately about wildlife, conservation. Thank you for that. I want to talk about what a DeWine administration will mean to the issues you care about. First I am excited about the prospect of serving as Governor. One of the reasons I am excited is the ODNR. There is a long history of men and women who are professionals and have a passion for what they do. In a DeWine administration, the department of natural resources will be a crown jewel. We care very much about what goes on there."
He continued, "My commitment to you is that the Division of Wildlife will, under a DeWine administration, continue a tradition of excellence. We will have professionals who follow good scientific best practices and people in the leadership who have a real passion for this work. One of the things that is unique about the department, and particularly in the Division of Wildlife, is the men and women there they are special people. They care about what they are doing. They have a passion.
"One of the challenges we face is the disintegration of family. I see it in families I deal with as AG. One of the great things about fishing, hunting and trapping is it brings families together like nothing else does. It is a wonderful thing. I ask you for a moment to think back to the first time you went out with a parent or grandparent to hunt, fish or trap. I can remember hunting with my Dad. He had English Pointers and hunted pheasants. It was a blast and part of that is because I was with my father. One of the things I remember him telling me is that when we are out hunting, this is the most relaxed he was ever. They taught me how to fish and that is a life-long passion. What you do, what you care about is really so much about family.
"Let me conclude by mentioning the Second Amendment. As Attorney General one of my jobs has been is to seek reciprocity with more states for concealed carry. I am proud that in my capacity I've gone into to court to file friends of the court briefs to protect Second Amendment rights. We've done this several times in regards to local jurisdiction who would restrict Second Amendment rights."
Following the keynote address, Evan Heusinkveld, President and CEO of the SA, presented questions that had been submitted to the SA.
Question: It's no secret that the trust between the ODNR and sportsmen across Ohio is at an all time low. How will the DeWine administration work with the sportsmen and women in this room to rebuild the relationship?
DeWine: I think that's a great question. I've heard from many about this issue. First, we need to recognize you are the ones putting the money in and we need to protect that money. You are the customer, the constituent and the ones who need to be happy with what is going on within the Department. As I mentioned there is a long history of ODNR being a crown jewel. That is because of the professionalism, the talent and the passion of the people who are in the Department. My commitment to you is no politics. This is about having professionals in the right places, who are trained, go by science and respect the fact that you are customer. That's the criteria for leadership.
Question: Over the past few years, American Electric Power (AEP) has made it known they plan to divest over 60,000 acres of land in SE Ohio. These lands have been available to the public. Today we have only acquired about 5,700 acres with the possibility of another 8,000 acres over the next few years. These acres represent 10% of the public land in the State of Ohio. Please speak to how your administration will address this vital public land.
DeWine: First of all, public land is vitally important. You don't have to have a lot of money to participate in hunting and fishing, but you must have a place to do it. Not everyone can own land so having public access is very important. I know this AEP property is stunning. My commitment is to do everything we can to add additional acreage. We do not want to let this get away from us. It is something that is critical. When I was in Congress, I worked to provide money for additional wetlands along Lake Erie. I have a long history of working with ODNR. We are going to do everything we can to buy that AEP land.
Question: Addressing Second Amendment issues, Ohio law provides for the right to keep and bear arms and establishes that firearm regulations should be uniform throughout the state. Do you support Ohio's preemption law that prohibits local governments from enacting laws more stringent than what is state or federal law?
DeWine: Yes absolutely. That is the law in Ohio. As Attorney General, I've enforced that law. I've even gone into cases in federal court where they were trying to violate the Second Amendment. Imagine what a nightmare it would be if every city or community were able to change their laws about how much of the Second Amendment to respect. We don't want the chaos that would occur if we allow liberal councils to pass ordinances that would infringe on the Second Amendment. You shouldn't have to get a map out to look where you are driving through and determine what part of Ohio is violating Second Amendment rights. We will be vigorous in this area.
Question: It's no secret that the Ohio Division of Wildlife is facing a historic funding shortfall over the next ten years. The best estimate is in the range of $180 million in operating and capital needs, not including the AEP land. How do you plan to fix this problem before it severely impacts hunting, fishing and trapping in Ohio?
DeWine: The answer goes back to how I approach government. We are going to consult with hunters, fishermen and trappers in the State of Ohio. You are the people who are paying the bills with your license fee. You can help guide us as we make decisions about increasing fees. We will look to you. You also benefit from things that can be done with more money and that may not be done right now. I've walked around tonight and heard people say I wish we could do this or that. It's a trade-off how much people are willing to pay. I'm very open for discussion.
Outdoor writer and hunter education instructor Larry S. Moore is a long-time volunteer leader for Buckeye Firearms Foundation and winner of the 2005 USSA Patriot Award, the 2007 League of Ohio Sportsmen/Ohio Wildlife Federation Hunter Educator of the Year and the 2010 National Wild Turkey Federation/ Women in the Outdoors Hunter Education Instructor of the Year.