In the mid '60s, I heard people around my hometown in Virginia talk about something they called the "Byrd Machine." It turns out that two men, Harry Byrd Sr. and Harry Byrd Jr., pretty much dominated Virginia politics - especially the Democratic side of things - for better than 60 years. The older Byrd was governor and a U.S. senator, and the younger Byrd replaced his father in the Senate and served until 1983. Basically, if you wanted to get anywhere in Virginia politics, you had be part of the "Byrd Machine."
One cog in the machine was Absalom Willis Robertson, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933-46 and in the U.S. Senate from 1946-66. He was an old-line Virginia conservative; you might know his son, televangelist Pat Robertson.
But for the people of South Carolina and other states, one of Robertson's congressional accomplishments is still paying dividends, and this is a special year to celebrate it.
The Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937 is probably the most-important law ever passed by Congress concerning wildlife. This is the 75th anniversary of the ground-breaking piece of legislation.
Rep. Robertson and Sen. Kay Pittman of Nevada drafted and were able to get enacted a piece of legislation that took an existing excise tax on the sale of hunting equipment that went to the U.S. Treasury Department's general fund and pledged the same monies to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for return to the states to help fund wildlife projects.
In a nutshell, an 11-percent excise takes is paid on every pistol, shotgun, rifle, ammo and accessory purchased. The excise tax on archery equipment is 10 percent. The money is collected by the federal government and redistributed to states through a formula based on hunting-license sales. The states put up 25 percent of funding for any approved wildlife project, and Pittman-Robertson monies cover the other 75 percent. In the 1950s, a similar piece of legislation was enacted to help the scaly side of things: the Federal Aid for Fisheries Restoration Act, aka the Dingell-Johnson Act.
Over the past 75 years, Pittman-Robertson has returned more than $2 billion to the states for wildlife rehabilitation and restoration programs and hunter-safety education. In 2012, South Carolina's share of the pie was $5.297 million, a pretty good chunk of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' budget.
Without Pittman-Robertson, states could not have restored whitetail deer and wild turkey, among other species, and we would be much poorer for it. So next time you stumble across Pat Robertson on television at night while you're surfing between ESPN and The Outdoor Channel,, say a silent "Thank you" to his father.