Even though there’s virtually no organized financial opposition to Washington’s Referendum 45, supporters say they won’t rest until the votes are cast Nov. 7.
“We’re finding that most people don’t know much about about the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but once they do, they support the referendum,” said Bob Panther, executive director of the Spokane-based Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.
R-45 seeks to restore the authority of the nine-member citizens commission to appoint the director of the state Fish and Wildlife Department.
The commission was established by initiative in 1933 to direct what was then the Department of Game. For 54 years, the agency’s funding had come almost entirely from hunters and anglers.
In 1987, the Legislature approved Gov. Booth Gardner’s request to take away the commission’s power to appoint the director. In exchange, the governor promised to budget $6 million for the cash-strapped agency from the general fund. The agency’s name was changed to the Department of Wildlife.
“It was a bad trade,” said Vern Ziegler, Spokane businessman and former commission chairman. “The department directors don’t think they need to come to public meetings anymore.”
In 1994, the Legislature merged the Fisheries Department and Wildlife Department into one agency. The commission became the Fish and Wildlife Commission, but its authority over the merged agencies was in question.
“(Gov. Mike) Lowry essentially wanted to do away with it,” Ziegler said.
After statewide public meetings found broad support for the commission, the 1995 Legislature, with bipartisan support, voted to put the issue of the commission’s authority to a public vote.
Bob Turner, former director of the Fisheries Department, had been named by Lowry to be the first director of the new super agency. The Fisheries Department, which controlled commercial and ocean fishing, had never operated under the direction of a commission the way the Wildlife Department had.
Dean Lydig, a commissioner from Spokane who was reappointed by Lowry to a second term, said Turner has virtually turned his back on the panel.
Turner has declined comment. Lowry was not available for comment last week.
Jordan Day, Lowry press secretary, said the governor opposes R-45 “because the commission isn’t accountable to the voters.”
Also, the governor has more leverage dealing with international and tribal treaties than a commission, Day said.
“When it comes to negotiating, if you need a call from Bill Clinton, the governor can get it,” Day said.
“You don’t get that kind of service when you’re a member of a commission.”
Carl Crouse, former Game Department director and an R-45 backer, said neither the governor nor the commission deals with treaty negotiations.
“The director and staff would still deal with negotiations, like they have in the past,” he said.
“The main difference is that they would be accountable to a commission in public meetings for those negotiations, not to the governor behind closed doors.”
Lydig said commissioners are more accountable than the governor because they have to make their decisions in public and return to hometowns throughout the state.
“If we do something unpopular, we hear about it,” he said.
The Fish and Wildlife Alliance, the umbrella group for the Yes-on-45 campaign, has raised $71,590, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission.
The Inland Northwest Wildlife Council is the largest single contributor to that fund, with $16,971.
The largest contributions from Western Washington are $4,610 from the King County Sports Council and $4,000 from the Tacoma Sportsmen’s Club.
The only contributions filed in the No-on-45 campaign are $1,500 from the Northwest Indian Political Action Committee and $2,500 from Jim King of Spanaway, Wash.
With no corporate backing, R-45 supporters are relying on volunteers from groups ranging from the Audubon Society to the National Rifle Association to get the message out, Panther said.
The effort in Spokane has been mostly in the form of yard signs.
A few radio commercials will begin this week.
“We don’t have enough money to do anything big time,” said Crouse, who planned to join King County supporters for their last blitz - handing out pamphlets at the Seahawks game on Sunday.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: R-45 Referendum 45 would: Give the nine-member Fish and Wildlife Commission, rather than the governor, authority to appoint the Fish and Wildlife Department director. Continue to allow the governor to appoint three fish and wildlife commissioners to six-year-terms every two years. Require that the commission include representatives of various viewpoints, including property owners, sportsmen and environmentalists. Expand the commission’s authority beyond wildlife and inland fish to include commercial fisheries and ocean fish. Give the commission authority over fish and wildlife treaty agreements. Permit the commission to approve the department’s budget.