How do we measure trustworthiness? Simple, by results. Or as the old saying has it, "The proof is in the pudding."
North Carolina's recreational saltwater anglers have been forced to put their hopes in a Republican-sponsored study that took the place of the gamefish status bill that didn't survive the 2011 legislative cut. The bill would have put red drum, spotted sea trout and striped bass off limits for commercial netters to catch and sell.
Recreational anglers thought they had a sure thing; the bill had majority, veto-proof support in both the N.C. House and Senate, but it never got a full hearing. A similar bill met the same fate in 2009.
What happened? Well, Republicans wanted to ensure that Gov. Beverly Perdue couldn't successfully veto a budget bill that would slash government spending. They got a handful of Democrats to "cross over" to the red side to override Perdue's veto. In exchange for those Democratic votes, the Republicans apparently set aside H 353.
Now, Republicans are saying the bill has been resurrected as part of a saltwater resources "study" - perhaps overreaching - that will occur late in the 2011 session or the May 2012 short session. Everything, from the potential reorganization of the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission to joining the feds in enforcing national fishing laws to gamefish status for reds, specks and stripers will be on the table - we're told.
Do I believe Christmas will arrive in July for saltwater anglers? You can trust my words - I don't know.
I know Perdue and the Republicans, in playing political chicken with the budget, quashed the gamefish bill along with the hopes of 803,000 people who legally fished in North Carolina's coastal waters in 2010 and fueled a $1.6 billion economic engine.
I also know if this promised study doesn't result in some positive changes for saltwater management, those anglers and 17,000 coastal job-holders are going to blame someone at the polls.
Blame already exists for H 353's demise. The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group and N.C. Camouflage Coalition turned the gamefish bill over to the Coastal Conservation Association of North Carolina to carry in the legislature. A CCA-NC official told us his group misjudged where the greatest support for the bill would lie; a simple head count would have shown it was the Senate, not the House.
Also, the crossover problem easily could have been avoided if a companion bill had been presented to the Senate when H 353 surfaced in the House. CFRG and the Camo Coalition, we're told, "begged" CCA-NC to submit a companion bill but were ignored. Also, they said a lobbyist gave them bad advice. Was the lobbyist a double agent who sold his services to the highest bidder? Another question with no answer.
We do know anything can happen now, but Republicans should be sure they actually do make it happen or saltwater reform will be dead, probably for at least another two to six years - along with GOP hopes for re-election.