Politics are rare here. It's about the boys, about sailing and soccer, about the kind of coffee the French call sock water, and about counting mosquito bites. A few Deval Patrick bumper stickers and t-shirts came with the fathers, but the weekend is about the boys.
The one mealtime conversation had to do with beavers...and taxes.
The men seem about equally split between New York State and Massachusetts, which makes sense in the Berkshires. While there are staff from South Korea, Ukraine and Scotland, campers are centered near the City and Boston. You see as many Yankees caps as Sox ones.
One local dad from Washington, about three miles North, couldn't stand it any longer. It was the damned dam builders.
To those of us Easterners, it is a clear tone to hear the strong, simple message from places without public school violence, mass transit concerns, complex immigrant assimilation issues and other urban problems. It was the beavers.
This dad holds that the commonwealth restrictions on beaver trapping:
- Have caused a huge increase in related damage throughout Massachusetts,
- Illustrate the how insensitive the largely Eastern, urban legislators are to Western, rural issues, and
- Prove that his tax dollars go to support only concerns unrelated to his region.
Easy answers include that he was right about the beaver damage. However, nothing except provincialism or perhaps hunter's entitlement begins to support the rest. This actually returns to the main topics here, including both ballot initiatives and voter perceptions.
To their proponents, the sides on this issue were as passionate as those for same-sex marriage laws. In 1996, the Human Society of the United States pushed a ballot initiative, which became Question 1 on the 1997 ballot. It centered on banning leg-hold traps. Predictably, opponents included self-described sportsmen, such as the NRA and the small number of trappers.
It was a nasty campaign. The anti-trapping folk had the edge. The Humane Society picked the most emotional and compelling angle. Many wildlife associations joined it in the "ban cruel traps" campaign.
Hunters screamed a complex message about how this was just the opening salvo in an effort to ban all hunting in Massachusetts. Instead the image of agonized animals writhing while they slowly starved in the hold of traps won.
As we see in the most recent anti-SSM campaign, the Let the people vote! slogan is powerful. While inane and illogical, it is easier on the ears than the more complex truth about safeguarding the minority and the democratic process.
For the traps issue, it wasn't even close -- 64% to 36%. This became General Law 131:80A. It forbids beaver trapping except with expensive live-catch traps. There are also numerous restrictions on what pressing needs justify trapping beavers. Fines are serious -- up to $10,000.
The folklore aspect of the dad's arguments is similar to that of SSM. The dad would have it that the evil legislature steals his tax money and lets pests ruin his property with onerous laws not suited to reality.
Meanwhile in the verifiable world, it was actually a ballot initiative again, not lawmakers, many of whom opposed the Wildlife Protection Act. Yet, to him, government seems to be government, no matter how the laws arise or become mandates.
Other than the raccoons eating garden plants and the squirrels stealing birdfood, this Bostonian doesn't have problems with rampaging wildlife. So, it was enlightening to hear from someone who did.
I rather wish I had not been as ignorant of the issues. That would have made for a fun mealtime discussion.
For ballot initiatives, the emotional pull can be powerful indeed. Their original purpose was to seek redress from terrible legislation. As we can see all too plainly in initiative states, this is not what it has become in the main.
Tags: massmarrier, ballot initiatives, beavers, trapping