Gov. Kate Brown’s nomination of Enterprise rancher and big game hunter James Nash to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission shouldn’t have been controversial.
Far from it, in fact. Vibrant and varied engagement in the lawmaking process has always been critical to the success of democracy. But it only works when those fostering such a venue exercise the virtue and integrity demanded of this ideological hallowed ground.
Instead, Nash’s nomination was rejected by the Senate in response to complaints by environmental groups.
The opposition to Nash’s appointment — which came loud and fast — stemmed neither from incompetence or a lack of prudential judgment. Nash’s evident qualifications generated fear among his ideological opponents.
From a young age, Nash always led by the example of his convictions. Convictions not crafted by political expediency but informed by genuine reverence for the terrain of Eastern Oregon and all that comes with it.
Defined by courage, leadership and fierce passion for the natural environment that shaped his character, Nash’s qualifications, evidenced by a lifetime of experience, speak for themselves.
But his nomination nonetheless enraged conservationists whose environmental policy is to give no quarter and offer no compromise when it comes to the state they believe is wholly theirs. Steve Pedery, the director of Oregon Wild, levied what surely was the most devastating put-down he could muster — he compared Brown to President Trump.
We struggle to follow the analogy, as the nomination represented a willingness on the governor’s part to engage with ideological opponents and offer a seat at the table where actual policy is debated and crafted.
The environmental groups also objected to appointees Robert Spelbrink, a retired fisherman from Siletz, and Mark Labhart, a retired state forester and Tillamook County commissioner, though with less vitriol. And the groups have said they plan to run attack ads against Brown for suggesting a commission with balanced membership.
Their argument is that Brown is unwilling to pursue the aggressive environmental policies that she affirmed during the campaign and is more interested in placating rural Democrats whose votes she will need to fulfill other legislative goals. Even if that is Brown’s only motivation, it’s how a state should be governed. If Oregon Wild and the other seven groups who opposed the nomination were in charge, their decisions wouldn’t come close to representing all Oregonians.
Nash’s biggest liability was a social media trail of big game hunting photos depicting him standing over slain hippos, crocodiles and, most notably, wolves. But the truth is, no matter how reprehensible hunting may be to some, it’s a big part of life for many of us. Bringing that viewpoint into the discussion on wolves is essential, as long as the everyone is willing to work together.
Oregon can’t afford to emulate the disturbing national trend of blind and automatic dismissal of opposing viewpoints. The politically cheap attempt to discredit a combat veteran with a profound understanding of wildlife management is a disgrace not only to Nash but a slap in the face to Gov. Brown’s judgment and a declaration of war against both fact and the diversity so critical to effective decision-making at any level of government.
Conjuring a false narrative of a combat veteran like Nash is not only negligent, it’s a shameful waste of a rare asset within Oregon’s political climate. Nash came to the table equipped with both the intangible and tangible assets essential to his proposed role. He’s hardly a political ally of Gov. Brown, but should have been respected across the political spectrum.
Nash’s reverence and passion for wildlife management and the protection of natural order was matched by his dedication to the rule of law. His intellect was outshined only by his prudential judgment, integrity and enthusiasm for the natural world.
To allow political stunts to prevent diverse voices in the political process is a loss for Oregon.