Thursday, March 1, 2012

Daniel Richards and the Mountain Lion: Is What He Did Wrong?

California Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards is under fire, and may be forced to resign, because he (successfully) hunted a mountain lion in Idaho, where it's legal. (For the record, it was a wild mountain lion, and he did eat it afterward.)

This kind of politics is really troubling, not least because it divides an already sundered outdoor community - on one hand you have hunters and fisherman, on the other hand you have the hikers and climbers and trailrunners, and they view each other as different species. But both are interested in conserving wilderness and preserving open space, and when the Sierra Club and hunters' groups come together on an issue, no politician can withstand them. This pseudo-scandal reminds you of a company demanding someone give a surprise blood test during their off-work hours, and then firing them when it comes back positive for alcohol. ("Yes, it was Saturday night, I wasn't in the office!") Oddly, one of Richards's detractors in the CA legislature, Ted Lieu, asked something similar: "Imagine if the (national) drug czar went to a jurisdiction where marijuana was legal and then posted an Internet picture showing him smoking marijuana." Oddly, because this is possibly the best argument in favor of Richards! Yes, of course that hypothetical drug czar's political opponents would use his wild-times-in-Amsterdam photo against him. But was his action wrong? If that drug czar's job is enforcing the laws of his jurisdiction, in his jurisdiction (and not on the whole rest of the world!) then he obviously didn't do anything wrong legally, and unless the issue bears some moral context that differs from place to place, he didn't do anything immoral either. Are mountain lions endangered? Not even in California, and especially not in Idaho - "Least Concern" on IUCN's index.

While Ted Lieu is dragging the details of people's personal lives into their public service, let's mention a NorCal favorite, to show how the argument falls apart. I like Gavin Newsom. I think he was a great mayor of San Francisco, and I would definitely consider voting for him for governor eventually. Also, Gavin Newsom had an affair with his campaign manager's wife while he was at the head of a city government solemnizing same-sex marriages. I wholeheartedly support legalizing gay marriage and I'm proud of what Newsom did. I don't see his personal mis-step having anything to do with what he was trying accomplish. Tellingly, even Newsom's most vicious opponents in this fight never saw fit to drag this tidbit into the debate. And that act is more obviously immoral in a context-free way than the game hunt that Richards went on.

People have every right to be morally outraged, but our outrage doesn't give us a right to interpret the law however we want to, on either side of any issue. SF Chron article here.

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