Game and Fish Commission

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Senate Bill 1200 changes the process for appointing Arizona Game and Fish Commissioners. Critics say it hijacks the commission, putting Arizona’s wildlife in the hands of special interests. Hear both sides of the issue from Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner Norm Freeman and Pete Cimellaro, an Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife board member.

Ted Simons: The statehouse today passed a bill that changes the way members of the Arizona game and fish commission are selected. Critics say it hijacks the commission, putting the states wildlife trust in the hands of special interests. Here to talk about the bill, which now awaits the governor's signature, are -- Norm freeman, a game and fish commissioner from Chino valley in Yavapai county who is opposed to the bill. And Pete Cimarello, a board member of Arizona sportsmen for wildlife, a group that's lobbied in support of the bill. Good to have you both on "Horizon." Thanks for joining us.

Norm Freeman & Pete Cimarello: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Pete, let's start with you. You're for this bill. Why is this change necessary?

Pete Cimarello: All of us believe strongly in a commission system and want to preserve that system but we see it in jeopardy. It comes from a disconnect between the principle supporters of the agency, the sportsmen who fund a great majority of the dollars necessary for the game and fish department's operation and its budget. And we're feeling disenfranchised, push backed and concerned about that. Why we've instituted this change is we'd like to see it continue on the same working relationship we've had basically for the last 80 years.

Ted Simons: Why is this change a bad idea?

Norm Freeman: Because it heightens and increases the disconnect Pete mentioned. Right now and over the last 80 years, it's been a process where the citizens of the state elect a governor, a senate. That governor makes an appointment to the game and fish commission and the senate must then confirm that appointment. After a commissioner is confirmed, that commissioner's legal responsibility it to manage the wildlife of the state and habitat and hold it in the public trust for all the citizens of Arizona. By driving a wedge between those folks that interview commissioners as they make the round before they're appointed and then confirmed by the senate, by putting a third layer of bureaucracy in the middle, you're indicating those commissioners should be responsible not to the citizenry of the state, but those folks who interviewed them along the way.

Ted Simons: Explain what you mean by a third level of bureaucracy.

Norm Freeman: The change being made is a commissioner point the board where any sportsman in the state, angler, any birdwatcher, can go on the governor's boards and commissions website and fill out a application to be a game and fish commissioner and they'll be considered and asked to go around and visit with the different sportsmen's organizations and that Pete mentioned and I did that as part of my process. And the governor gets to pick from all of the citizens of the state. All the anglers and hunters and all of the folks that have a environmental interest, all considered. In the last couple years, there's only been a dozen at most. Or 20 at most. That have even applied. So it's not like there's an overwhelming volume of folks. But that layer of bureaucracy is that that the new commission board -- the governor will no longer be able to do that. Some very specific organizations have been outlined in the legislation that will -- the boards of directors of those organizations will tell the governor, give the governor a short list and from that, the governor must appoint a commissioner.

Ted Simons: Why should those organizations have that kind of pull? Why hunters and anglers are what we are talking about. Why not birdwatchers.

Pete Cimarello: There's a space carved out for birdwatchers and agribusiness. And, yes, there's some sportsmen conservation that are principles in this. Without question are again, they fund the great majority of the program's budget. 70%. Those are department numbers and norm and I have had discussions about that. And he has questions about his own agency's numbers. I don't. These are the number given us. You have the constituents represented without question. Very few people apply for this job. It's a handful. Sometimes it's only four or five. Other times roughly a dozen. We do not feel that the current system where a governor may choose anyone works. Not enough people apply. I'm going to call it a search committee, will be able to go out and actually look for individuals to sit on the commission, true they're going to interview them and vet them and probably pick from the best. But right now, and Norman went through there process, a commission possible candidate may be known to the governor, may not be not. May be known to her staff or may not and may get appointed, not necessarily the best qualified out of a large group. Never. It's always a small group. This will allow a broader expansion of that group and ensure that political favorites are not going to be there. Somebody who is rewarded or a Maricopa County or PIMA county commissioner. We always have them on the board. It's tradition, so to speak. There are counties that have not had commissioners in decades. Why? Because of politics and numbers.

Norm Freeman: Thanks. Pete talked about more applicants for the position and I agree with that. I agree there should be more applicants for the commission. I don't see any reason, Pete's organizations or any organization no matter how they feel about Arizona wildlife shouldn't be out looking and recruiting folks to apply in the open process we have now. Where the public is involved. Where I disagree with Pete is on the political side. I feel this squarely injects politic into our North American model of wildlife management. Politics should not play a role in wildlife management. And to that point, no more than three commissioners can be from any one political party and what concerns me what Pete is saying, they're going to apply a filter process to those candidates that will tie the hands of the governor. This is not a recommendation board. This is a board that a governor must appoint a candidate from. So it limits the authority of the executive branch and indirectly of the legislative branch.

Ted Simons: Talk about that limiting process there. Because a lot of former commissioners have come out against this particular idea. What you see as a broken system, they say it ain't broken and doesn't need to be fixed. Is limiting the process a good idea?

Pete Cimarello: I don't know that it's limiting the process. I don't see it that way. I see it as broadening the process. They talk about it focuses down to this board. Yeah, it does. But at the same time, the board is going to be focused on a job that's currently not done and I realize we've upset the good old boys' club, the commissioners, because there's a tradition there and stepping on that tradition. In actuality, we're not. We strongly support the commission system. We're going to work as hard as we can to ensure that this process is broadened. Any change, you know, is a threat and that's what is being perceived here. But there's nothing that this sportsmen group, have ever done that works against the Arizona game and fish commission. We're the backbone of these industries. They know that. Why there's so much distrust on their side and our side is a disconnect. That's the problem.

Ted Simons: Norm, I want to get back to the crux over here. The hunters and fishermen, pay a lot of money and -- 60%, 70%, whatever numbers you want to use -- and don't feel their disproportionate share is being recognized. Is that a valid concern?

Norm Freeman: No, for a couple of reasons. If that's the concern, if financial considerations are the concern for an asset that's held in the public trust, then this is the wrong bill. That should be a bill that takes wildlife and its habitat out the public trust and given it specifically to the consumptive users. The other side of the argument, yes, these contribute a lot to the department but understand they consume that resource. Last year we issued hunting licenses and fishing licenses at a two-to-one ratio. Two fishing licenses approximately for every one hunting license. There's not two seats specifically dedicated to anglers but there's two for every one hunter. If Pete goes out and buys an antelope tag and a hunting license and harvests an antelope, which is a great way to get natural meat for your family, he's going to spend $120, $130 to do the paperwork to legally harvest that animal. If any other citizen of the state went out and harvested that animal without being licensed and paying into the system like Pete talked about, they'd be assessed a civil assessment of about $2,500 and face criminal liability as well. These folks that pay in, they're getting a heck of a discount on the resource that's being taken away from the rest of the public.

Ted Simons: I see that as being a concern of yours. This disproportionate share of the money. I see a concern over here that diversity on the commission is threatened and one voice will be very loud and the others not heard at all or way back in the distance. First, is diversity important for the commission, the board and secondly, does this hurt the concept of diversity?

Pete Cimarello: Maybe in someone's mind. Not in ours. We've been labeled as not caring about anything that we can't hunt or fish for. That's not true. The projects we do for wildlife benefit almost all wildlife in the state. If we manage well and Mother Nature is generous, then we do sometimes get to harvest the bounty. I have a real difference with norm. We're getting a bargain with the prices we pay versus the guy who poaches. There's a disconnect with that analogy. We pay reasonable fees but when you look at the other states in the west, we pay some of the highest also. We're willing to do that, in fact, twice we went to the legislature and raised the fees on ourselves. When the game and fish department could not get the fee bill through, we picked it up. I'm one of them who worked on that twice to get it done. We've raised the bar so high and raised hundreds of millions of dollars for this agency, we do want some direction this how that money is spent.

Ted Simons: Is there a compromise here or does the bill have to go through as is?

Pete Cimarello: No.

Ted Simons: What do you think? Is there a compromise?

Norm Freeman: If you want to allocate on the basis, it could be redone a different way.

Ted Simons: Ok. And we'll have to stop it right there. Thank you for joining us tonight on "Horizon."

Norm Freeman: Pete Cimarello: Thank you.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us, you have a great evening.

Norm Freeman:Arizona Game and Fish Commissioner;Pete Cimellaro:Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife board member;

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