Although the facts by themselves clearly speak in opposition to the upcoming fall bear referendum and its goal of closing down bear hunting, there is an undeniable, underlying emotional component. Political outcomes can be unpredictable when voters are misled by dramatic emotional appeals.

So in the weeks ahead, the challenge for those opposed to the bear hunt ban is simply to get the facts to the voters. Surely most responsible, informed voters do not want to decimate the state’s rural hunting-based economy, upset years of nationally respected scientific state wildlife management, or use a referendum to sound the death knell for Maine’s traditional hunting heritage.

Our leaders must speak out. They must not fail to do what all effective leaders do. Leaders make a decision to take a stand, a step, in order to encourage others to move in the right direction. They commit to an act of social influence. On issues like the bear referendum, the average voter does not want to be told how to vote, but most look to their leaders for wisdom and judgment in helping them sort it all out.

With so much more at stake beyond actual bear hunting, Mainers should expect to hear from more than just the hunting and outfitting community. Our elected political leaders with an ounce of courage should not expect to sit this one out . To their credit, dozens of political leaders of all stripes and persuasions have already shared their positions and thought processes on the bear referendum. State lawmakers have spoken out. What about our congressional delegation, Congressman Michaud, Congresswoman Pingree, U.S. Senator Angus King and U.S. Senator Susan Collins?

Both Congressman Michaud and Senator King have made public their compelling arguments as to why the bear hunting ban (and the referendum) is bad idea. Sen. King’s “position paper, which he is sending to his constituents who inquire about his thoughts, is thorough and well-reasoned.

In response to my inquiry about how they stood on the bear referendum, the press offices of Congresswoman Pingree and Senator Collins issued these non-commital boilerplate responses. Pingree’s statement, not surprisingly, was: The bear baiting referendum is a state issue and will be decided by Maine voters and there is not an appropriate role for Congress in the debate. Congresswoman Pingree will leave it to voters of the state to weigh in on this issue. All it takes is a cursory look at Congressman Pingree’s voting record to know where she really stands. There is a reason why the NRA gives her an F rating! If she is truly a leader worthy of her elected position let her speak out against bear hunting, if that is what she believes! Let her show some leadership and advance her arguments for the field of discourse.

As for Senator Collins, we expected better. Here is Senator Collins’ statement. It disappoints: “Hunting laws are determined by the State of Maine, and are outside of my jurisdiction as a United States Senator. The upcoming referendum on bear hunting — like all citizen initiatives or people’s veto — is a matter of state law and should not involve the federal government.”

Sen. Collins is avoiding the issue, playing it safe under a cloak of jurisdictional propriety. What if there were a state referendum on term limits for U.S. senators, or a referendum to secede from the Union? Would she be similarly restrained by jurisdictional concerns? And why did she not hesitate to take a position on Roxanne Quimby’s national park idea?

In her heart of hearts, Sen Collins may be opposed to bear hunting. That is her right. If she is, though, may it be from personal conviction and not money politics. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the national anti-hunting organization that is bankrolling the bear referendum, is on record for having contributed $2,000 to Sen. Collins campaign chest! Equally troubling, a Washington lobby group, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which “supports animal protection laws at the state level” gives Sen. Collins an unequivocally perfect 100 rating. As a base line of comparison, most of Sen. Collins’ national Republican counterparts received ratings from this same group on the average of zero to 10. Maine’s Senator Angus King got a 50 rating.

So what is going on here? Perhaps it’s not the money or the rating. Perhaps it is simply the arrogance of power, not wanting get her hands dirty by handling such a “provincial issue.” In fairness, she may, indeed, honestly believe she has no place in this debate.

She would be mistaken. That she has accepted financial campaign money from the very organization that is using its national influence and deep pockets to undo Maine’s hunting heritage places her in a position where silence is suspect.

Sen Collins is a product of Aroostook County where bear hunting provides significant employment and cash flow to a lot or northern Maine businesses. Has she, like so many other entrenched U.S. Senators, lost touch with her roots? How can she, a respected and hard-working lawmaker, who speaks for Maine as well as the nation, not show some leadership on the bear referendum? It is not too late for Senator Collins to stand up and be counted.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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