Bear Baiting Bill Trapped

Political Battle Stalls Gallegly Measure

Posted July 18, 2003 at 6:52pm

A seemingly innocuous bill to prohibit the use of bait in hunting bears provoked a bizarre political fight last week, prompting some House Members and outside groups to accuse the measure’s chief proponent of distorting the issue and using misleading tactics to drum up support.

Late Thursday night, the House delivered the Don’t Feed the Bears Act of 2003 — originally sponsored by Reps. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) — a damaging blow, defeating an attempt to attach it to the Interior appropriations bill by a vote of 255-163.

That vote came two days after Gallegly pulled the measure from a scheduled Resources Committee markup so he could have more time to prepare. Panel sources suggested the committee would have reported the measure unfavorably.

Despite the failure of the appropriations strategy, Gallegly vowed in an interview to press on.

“We’re just starting. We’ll continue the process,” Gallegly said, though he would not specify what his next step would be.

The story of how the bill has not become a law actually began in late March, when Gallegly and Moran introduced the measure and it was referred to the Resources Committee.

Panel Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), who beat out Gallegly and several other candidates to win the Resources gavel earlier this year, was opposed to the measure, and although the bill was granted a subcommittee hearing, Gallegly wanted a full committee vote as quickly as possible.

Gallegly complained about the situation to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), and at one point in that discussion the idea surfaced that Gallegly could take a leave of absence from Resources in exchange for a committee vote on his bill.

“I did speak to the Speaker and with Roy Blunt,” Gallegly said. “During the discussion of the situation, there were some questions about whether there was some friction on this between me and Richard.

“I said, ‘Hey, that’s over. There has not been a cross word between Richard Pombo and I.’”

Republican leadership sources said it was Gallegly who broached the idea of leaving the committee in exchange for a vote.

Those sources said the leadership ran the proposal by Pombo’s staff, who approved the deal. But when Pombo himself got wind of it, he nixed the idea of Gallegly leaving the panel and eventually scheduled the full committee markup for last Tuesday.

Gallegly confirmed that basic account, saying he may have suggested the deal first, though it was just “happy talk.”

Gallegly ended up pulling the bill from consideration minutes before Tuesday’s hearing was set to begin.

To Pombo’s office, Gallegly’s pulling of the measure and the failure of his appropriations strategy means the bill has no future.

“He scheduled a vote, but Gallegly pulled it, so the issue’s dead,” said Pombo spokesman Doug Heye.

Gallegly has spent the last few months rounding up co-sponsors for the bill, personally calling Members and approaching them on the floor to ask for their support. He was eventually able to attract more than 180 co-sponsors from both parties.

But then word began to circulate among Members and their staffs that the National Rifle Association and other hunting groups opposed the measure, and some co-sponsors decided to reconsider. As of Friday morning, 21 co-sponsors had taken their names off the bill.

In some cases, Members signed on to the bill at Gallegly’s request, then were told by their staffs that they shouldn’t have. Further, several lawmakers said privately that Gallegly did not accurately describe the bill’s level of support, telling them the measure would likely be on the suspension calendar and that the NRA did not have a problem with it.

Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), for example, withdrew his co-sponsorship last Monday. Asked whether the bill had been accurately described to him, Baca said, “No, it wasn’t.”

Another lawmaker, who requested anonymity, said Gallegly had “misrepresented the bill” to him on the floor, saying it had the support of lawmakers and groups who turned out to oppose it.

Gallegly denied that he told anyone that specific groups were backing the bill.

“I didn’t make any representations about who was supporting it other than other Members,” he said.

Gallegly said many of his colleagues recognized the benefits of the measure, since “you don’t have 170 or 180 co-sponsors” on a bill without merit.

Asked why some co-sponsors were dropping their support for the bill, Gallegly said, “There has been some strong influence by certain people,” though he wouldn’t identify them.

Gallegly said he had put in several calls to NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre to find out why the group was opposed to the measure. The lawmaker claimed Wednesday that he had not been able to get an answer. “I have seven calls in and I haven’t had a return call,” he said.

But the NRA disputed that account.

“Wayne in fact did return his call but they haven’t talked,” said Chuck Cunningham, the NRA’s director of federal affairs. “Our position on this bill is extremely clear and has been communicated to all Members of Congress.”

Gallegly responded that LaPierre’s secretary had called once, but that there was no other substantive contact.

The bill’s proponents, meanwhile, have also been active.

Two groups that support the measure — The Humane Society of the United States and The Fund for Animals — distributed flyers on the Hill and ran newspaper ads, including one in Roll Call, featuring an actor dressed as legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett.

“I kilt me a b’ar when I was only three. And never needed to bait ‘em with a stale pizza or box of doughnuts,” Crockett says in the ad.

Whatever happens, Gallegly said he did not want this saga portrayed as some sort of feud between him and Pombo or any other lawmakers.

“I’m more interested in getting my legislation passed than getting into something personal,” Gallegly said. “When things start to get personal you can’t get things done.”