Tuesday’s midterm elections placed control of the U.S. Congress, several governorships and state legislative chambers in the hands of American voters. While final results are still being tabulated—and could be for several more days—there was a shift away from the trend of electing Republicans to office that had begun in 2009, well before the upset victory by President Donald Trump in 2016.
Trump had campaigned hard for several eventually victorious U.S. Senate candidates in the final weeks of the campaign, but his efforts were not enough to fend off a roughly 30-seat swing toward Democrats in the U.S. House. They will now take control of that chamber for the first time since January of 2011. For comparison, the President Trump’s losses in the House were not nearly as severe as President Barack Obama’s 62-seat loss in the 2010 midterms nor President Bill Clinton’s 54-seat loss in 1994. Despite endless media speculation of a Democrat “blue wave” this midterm, as well as a surprisingly early evening call by Fox News for control of the U.S. House, most analysts agreed a wave election had not materialized.
As Safari Club International members, we are not an auxiliary for any party. SCI exists to protect hunting and to defend our hunting heritage for all time. But we are not unaffected by election results and we must be aware of, and adapt to, changes that lay ahead in Washington, D.C. and state capitols across America. Below are some the impacts on hunting we should expect to see when the next Congress convenes in January.
U.S. House of Representatives
Results in about 10 House races are still being determined, but Democrats have already won at least 225 seats (according to ABC News), giving them control of the U.S. House.
For hunters, there is no way to sugar coat that this is anything other than a bad development. The expected re-ascension of Speaker Nancy Pelosi will be accompanied by a bevy of hardcore, left-wing committee chairs who are sharply more ideological than their rank-and-file members—especially newer members elected from swing districts.
In fact, the incoming chair for the House Natural Resources Committee is expected to be none other than Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the same legislator who, in September, introduced HR. 6885, or the CECIL Act, to effectively shut down the importation of overseas trophies. Grijalva originally introduced the bill in 2015.
Now that Democrats control the House, hunters need to know that it is possible this bill is headed for a hearing or some other legislative action in 2019 in the House Natural Resources Committee.
Hunters need to stand tall and be ready to defend conservation science. The facts are on our side and we should look ahead with eagerness for any opportunity to defend our hunting heritage.
It is hard to gauge how the loss of a clear pro-hunting majority in the House will impact other legislative issues already in the works. Comprehensive modernization of the Endangered Species Act is likely on hold in the House, as is progress on reform of the Antiquities Act. On ESA reform, upwards of 20 House members have introduced bills in the current Congress to amend the ESA, some directly beneficial to hunting.
While it is likely all these bills will be re-introduced in the coming 116th Congress, it is unlikely they will be heard in committee or considered on the House floor.
One long term effort underway for several Congresses is the catch-call Sportsmen’s Heritage & Recreational Enhancement Act, or SHARE Act, originally introduced in 2012. While its future fate is unknown, the effort did encompass many reforms helpful to hunting or hunter access that have strong bipartisan support.
As we have in past, SCI will recognize and support any bill or initiative to benefit hunting no matter where they are in the legislative process.
Because of their longer, six-year terms, roughly 1/3 of Senators are up for election every two years. For the 2018 midterms, minority Democrats faced a simple enemy in their effort to gain a majority—math. Democrats had way more ground to defend— about 25 of 33 seats up for grabs—and about half those seats went for President Trump in 2016, some by double digits.
Results are still pending, but Trump’s non-stop campaigning since September for GOP Senators and candidates has so far resulted in a possible 54-seat Republican majority, depending on results in Arizona and Florida where Martha McSally and Rick Scott held slim election night leads, and the outcome of a December runoff in Mississippi where Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith prevailed in a three-way race but failed to get 50%.
One casualty in the Senate contests represented a loss for the GOP as Sen. Dean Heller was defeated for reelection in Nevada. Heller is an active sportsman and has been a reliable voice for hunters and SCI members since his election to the U.S. House in 2006. Hunters are grateful for his friendship.
Included in the incoming crop of senators will be Josh Hawley of Missouri and Rep. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, as well as Rep. Marsha Blackburn who retained a seat for the GOP in Tennessee. SCI-PAC backed these candidates in primaries or general elections.
During the current Congress, many bills have been introduced in the Senate that SCI was tracking, strongly supported or viewed as helpful to hunters. Examples include Pittman-Robertson modernization, ESA modernization, wolf de-listing and competing bills for reforming the Antiquities Act.
Hunters should expect these Senate bills to be re-introduced next year. They should not fear that the loss of a strongly pro-hunting House majority imperils all reform or modernization efforts. A stronger pro-hunting Senate majority will want to sharpen differences with a more liberal House and some pro-hunting provisions could pass as smaller items in larger, unrelated “must-pass” bills.
SCI’s support for major long-term reform efforts (e.g. ESA and Antiquities) will be undeterred in the next Congress and we will eagerly support any bill to benefit hunters.
State Elections And Ballots Initiatives
The aforementioned trend of voters preferring Republicans, stretching back a decade, was quite obvious at the state level where the GOP controlled 68 of 99 state House and Senate chambers and 33 governorships heading into this weeks’ elections.
But voters in Tuesday’s midterm elections handed Democrats governorships in seven states: Nevada, New Mexico, Kansas, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Maine. They also gave Democrats control in six legislative chambers: the Colorado Senate, the Maine Senate, the Minnesota House, the New York Senate and both chambers in New Hampshire.
With more than 6,000 total legislative seats up for election on Tuesday, more than 300 GOP held seats flipped to the Democrats, and almost 100 Democrat-held were flipped to Republicans. This represents a less than a three percent shift among all 7,300 total state legislative seats across the country.
Further down the ballot, Democrats won several states attorney general elections, giving them a 27-23 edge nationwide.
Alaska, home to so many hunters and sportsmen, bucked the national trend and elected Republican Mike Dunleavy to the governorship and gave the GOP control of the Alaska House. We have it on good authority the incoming governor will be aggressive in defending the authority of states to manage fish and wildlife.
If Brian Kemp holds a slim lead in Georgia, the GOP will retain 27 governorships, including the prize Florida and Ohio governorships so crucial in the upcoming 2020 presidential elections. Republicans will also retain control of 62 of 99 legislative chambers.
Below are results of some noteworthy state ballot initiatives considered Tuesday:
North Carolina: Voters in the Tar Heel state approved Ballot Measure 1, the “Right to Hunt, Fish and Harvest Wildlife,” by 57 percent. This is great news for hunters as the measure enshrines a right to hunt in the North Carolina Constitution. SCI was part of a broader sportsmen’s coalition that secured the ballot’s passage. North Carolina joins the following states to constitutionally recognize hunting, angling and trapping: Alabama (1996), Arkansas (2010), Georgia (2006), Idaho (2012), Kentucky (2012), Louisiana (2004), Minnesota (1998), Mississippi (2014), Montana (2004), Nebraska (2012), North Dakota (2000), Oklahoma (2008), South Carolina (2010), Tennessee (2010), Texas (2015), Virginia (2000), Wisconsin (2003), and Wyoming (2012), Kansas (2016) and Indiana (2016).
Georgia: In a win for conservation-minded sportsmen, Georgia voters approved Amendment 1 by 82 percent. The measure amends the Georgia constitution “to authorize the legislature to dedicate up to 80 percent of revenue from the sales and use tax on outdoor recreation equipment to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to fund land conservation.”
Washington: Passage of ballot measure I-1639 is a setback for supporters of the Second Amendment. I-1639 was the only firearms measure on a state ballot nationwide and it was considered an extremely strict rollback of gun rights. I-1639 requires gun owners to lock up their firearms or face criminal charges; bans 18, 19 and 20-year-olds from purchasing handguns or rifles; and creates an invasive new state “verification” process to ensure that persons are not in “illegal” possession. Sadly, the measure passed with 60 percent of the vote.