Approximately 500 sportsmen from across the state converged on the Villa Milano Banquet Center in Columbus for the 22nd annual Save Our Heritage Rally. The event featured many games, raffles, live and silent auctions plus the opportunity to renew friendships. The Sportsmen Alliance (SA) had widely promoted the appearance of gubernatorial candidates Mike DeWine (R) and Richard Cordray (D) as keynote speakers.
However, about 24-hours before the event, the Cordray Campaign unexpectedly informed the SA leadership that Mr. Cordray would not be appearing. This was certainly a surprise as the candidates had confirmed their appearance several months prior to the event. The SA was left with something of “egg on their face” after promoting the event as a chance for sportsmen to hear both candidates. It was a major disappointment with many guests shaking their head over the sudden change by the Cordray campaign.
However, that left the podium to Mr. DeWine to address the crowd and answer the questions. DeWine, accompanied by his wife Fran, had spent time talking to the crowd prior to speaking and appeared relaxed. He noted that his fiftieth wedding anniversary was spent at Lake Erie where they caught perch and walleye. He also spoke of hunting pheasants over English Pointers with his Father, as well as, learning to fish.
DeWine said, “Within this room are people who care very passionately about wildlife and conservation. Thank you for that. I want to talk about what a DeWine administration will mean to the issues you care about. First I am excited about the prospect of serving as Governor. One of the reasons I am excited is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). There is a long history of men and women who are professionals and have a passion for what they do. In a DeWine administration the ODNR will be a crown jewel. We care very much about what goes on there …”
“Let me conclude by mentioning the Second Amendment. As Attorney General one of my jobs has been is to seek reciprocity with more states for concealed carry. I am proud that in my capacity I’ve gone into to court to file friends of the court briefs to protect Second Amendment rights. We’ve done this several times in regards to local jurisdiction who would restrict Second Amendment rights,“ DeWine concluded.
Following the keynote address, Evan Heusinkveld, President and CEO of the SA presented questions that had been submitted.
Question: Its no secret that the trust between the ODNR and sportsmen across Ohio is at an all time low. How will the DeWine administration work with the sportsmen and women in this room to rebuild the relationship?
DeWine: I’ve heard from many about this issue. First we need to recognize you are the ones putting the money in and we need to protect that money. You are the customer, the constituent and the ones who need to be happy with what is going on within the Department. My commitment to you is no politics, this is about having professionals in the right places, who are trained, go by science and respect the fact that you are customer. That’s the criteria for leadership.
Question: Over the past few years American Electric Power (AEP) has made it known they plan to divest over 60,000 acres of land in SE Ohio. These lands have been available to the public. Today we have only acquired about 5700 acres with the possibility of another 8000 acres. Please speak to how your administration will address this vital public land.
DeWine: First of all, public land is vitally important. You don’t have to have a lot of money to participate in hunting and fishing but you must have a place to do it. Not everyone can own land so having public access is very important. I know this AEP property is stunning. My commitment is to do everything we can to add additional acreage. We do not want to let this get away from us. It is something that is critical. We are going to do everything we can to buy that AEP land.
Question: Addressing Second Amendment issues, Ohio law provides for the right to keep and bear arms and establishes that firearm regulations should be uniform throughout the state. Do you support Ohio’s preemption law that prohibits local governments from enacting laws more stringent than state or federal law?
DeWine: Yes absolutely. That is the law in Ohio. As Attorney General I’ve enforced that law. I’ve even gone into cases in federal court where they were trying to violate the Second Amendment. Imagine what a nightmare it would be if every city or community were able to change their laws about how much of the Second Amendment to respect. You shouldn’t have to get a map out to look where you are driving through and determine what part of Ohio is violating Second Amendment rights. We will be vigorous in this area.
Question: It’s no secret that the Ohio Division of Wildlife is facing a historic funding shortfall over the next ten years. The best estimate is in the range of $180 million in operating and capital needs, not including the AEP land. How do you plan to fix this problem before it severally impacts hunting, fishing and trapping in Ohio?
DeWine: We are going to consult with hunters, fishermen and trappers in the State of Ohio. You are the people who are paying the bills with your license fee. You can help guide us as we make decisions about increasing fees. We will look to you. You also benefit from things that can be done with more money and that may not be done right now. I’ve walked around tonight and heard people say I wish we could do this or that. It’s a trade-off how much people are willing to pay. I’m very open for discussion.
Larry Moore is a long-time outdoor columnist and county resident.