Published in ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007
KEENE, N.H.-- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on April 3, 2007 became the first 2008 Presidential contender to identify himself as a hunter, and the first to be embarrassed when his claims about hunting could not be verified.
Questioned at a campaign event in Keene, New Hampshire, about his position on gun control, Romney responded, "I support the Second Amendment. I purchased a gun when I was a young man. I've been a hunter pretty much all my life. I've never really shot anything terribly big," Romney confessed. "I used to hunt rabbits.
"Shooting a rabbit with a single-shot .22 is pretty hard," Romney added, so--according to his statements--he switched to using a semiautomatic rifle.
Associated Press political reporter Glen Johnson investigated Romney's story.
"In boasting about his lifelong experience as a hunter, Romney may have shot himself in the foot," Johnson concluded. "The Republican contender has told audiences on several occasions, most recently this week in gun-savvy and early voting New Hampshire, that he has been a longtime hunter. But it turns out he has been on only two hunting trips, at the bookends of his 60 years: as a 15-year-old, when he hunted rabbits with his cousins on a ranch in Idaho, and last year, when he shot quail on a fenced game preserve in Georgia.
"The 2006 trip was an outing with major donors to the Republican Governors Association," Johnson noted, "which Romney headed at the time."
Said Romney, after shooting the captive-reared quail, "I knocked quite a few birds and enjoyed myself a great deal."
Reported Dave Wedge of the Boston Herald soon after that expedition, "The governor and 15 others piled into four buggies at The Lodge at Cabin Bluff in Georgia and killed several quail, according to preserve manager Patty Daniels."
Affirmed Daniels, "They did kill quite a few quail. But I don't know how many Romney personally killed."
"The report that I only hunted twice is incorrect," Romney responded at an appearance in Indianapolis, three days after Johnson's article appeared. "I've hunted small game numerous times, as a young man and as an adult," Romney insisted, while admitting, "I'm by no means a big game hunter. I've always been a rodent and rabbit hunter, small varmints, if you will. I began when I was 15 or so, and I have hunted those kinds of varmints since then. More than two times."
Said Associated Press, "His staff refused to provide details about his hunting history, including whose gun he used, with whom he hunted and whether he hunted in Utah as a college student or as an adult. Romney does not own a firearm, despite claiming to earlier this year."
Recalled Johnson, "During a 1994 U.S. Senate campaign, Romney said he supported the Brady gun control law and a ban on assault-style rifles."
In the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign, Johnson continued, "Romney pledged to do nothing to change the state's firearms statutes."
Said Romney then, "We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they protect us and provide for our safety."
Wrote Johnson, "True to his word, Romney went on to sign one of the toughest assault weapons laws in the country."
However, Johnson added, "The ban on assault-style weapons included provisions extending the term of a firearms identification card and a license to carry weapons from four years to six years. It also created a Firearm License Review Board to provide an appeals process for people whose license applications had been denied.
"In 2006," Johnson continued, "Romney signed National Rifle Association-backed legislation creating exemptions for makers of customized target pistols who had found it too expensive to sell their guns in Massachusetts because of a state regulation requiring them to test at least five examples of new products 'until destruction.'"
Added Johnson, "In January, Romney was touting such measures as he and his wife Ann toured the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Orlando, Florida, with Wayne LaPierre, the NRA's executive vice president." Romney admitted seeking NRA endorsement of his candidacy.
Even before coming out as a self-proclaimed hunter, Romney offended animal advocates on multiple occasions, beginning as president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. The accompanying "Cultural Olympiad" included a "Command Performance Rodeo."
As a global campaign pressuring sponsors to cancel the rodeo gained momentum, Romney convened a December 2001 meeting in Salt Lake City with protest leaders including SHARK founder Steve Hindi, Vermont veterinarian/attorney Peggy Larson, Eric Mills of Action for Animals, Deb Probert of the Vancouver Humane Society, German activist Mathilde Mench, local activist Colleen Gardner, and Tony Moore, president of the Foundation Against Animal Cruelty in Europe. All except Gardner, who lives in Salt Lake City, flew to the meeting at their own expense.
All agreed that Romney at least came very close to promising to exclude calf roping from the rodeo.
Both Salt Lake City mayoral spokes-person Joshua Ewing and Romney's own spokesperson, Caroline Shaw, affirmed the activists' impression in media statements. Yet calf-roping went ahead as scheduled.
Two and a half years later, as Massachusetts governor, Romney in July 2004 vetoed a bill that would have guaranteed students at all levels of education the right to opt out of dissection for moral, ethical, or religious reasons.
The bill cleared the state senate 35-3, and was passed unanimously by the house.
"Biomedical research is an important component of the Commonwealth's economy and job creation," said Romney. "This bill would send the unintended message that animal research is frowned upon."
Took habitat funding
But Romney had already offended hunters, with a July 2003 appropriation bill that absorbed into the Massachusetts general fund about $10 million which had been kept in a dedicated fund created through sales of hunting and fishing licenses.
Romney moved to restore the dedicated fund three weeks later, after encountering intense protest from the hunting and fishing lobby--and after being warned by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service that liquidating the dedicated fund would cost Massachusetts matching grants provided by the Pittman-Robertson federal excise tax on fishing and hunting equipment. The federal grants accounted for about 60% of the Massachusetts wildlife department budget.
A similar controversy erupted in early 2005, after Romney staged a pre-Super Bowl rally in support of the New England Patriots, prominently featuring himself, with about $45,000 from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation parks budget.
Four days after the rally, Romney fired DRC commissioner Katherine Abbott for opposing the budget raid. Three days after that, Romney forced second-ranking DCR official Pam DiBona to resign as well.