WASHINGTON – Duncan
Hunter's House Armed Services Committee will be a pivotal
place in coming weeks – at least it will be if you're a
hunter, a military veteran, a whistle-blower, a
good-government type or a certain congresswoman from
California's central coast.
Such are the people and groups with a stake in the
defense authorization bill over which Hunter, as committee
chairman, has authority.
The House and Senate have passed different versions of
the bill, which means a handful of lawmakers from each
chamber must put their heads together to reconcile the two
pieces of legislation. In Washington, the process is known
as a conference committee, and typically it is conducted
behind closed doors.
A lot will be going
on behind those doors.
One topic will be Santa Rosa Island, that part of
Channel Islands National Park where Roosevelt elk and mule
deer make for good trophy hunting. Hunter, an avid hunter,
slipped a plan into the defense authorization bill that
would void a court settlement that ends hunting on the
island by 2011.
The plan from Hunter, an El Cajon Republican, would
allow hunting to continue indefinitely for disabled
veterans and other military types, though Hunter maintains
that hikers, bikers and others – not just those toting
guns – still could enjoy the island if hunting continues.
THUMBS DOWN FROM VETS GROUP
Now we learn that at least one significant group of
veterans doesn't like the idea.
In a recent letter to Rep. Vic Snyder, the Arkansas
Democrat who sits on Armed Services and on the House
Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the Paralyzed Veterans of
America said that after a visit to the island, “it is our
opinion that the numerous obstacles inherent to the island
– including ingress and egress, logistics, personal safety
and cost – far outweigh the possible, limited benefit it
could provide” for hunting.
Rep. Lois Capps, the Democrat whose district includes
the island, seized on the letter as evidence that the
congressman need proceed no further in his Santa Rosa
Island hunting quest.
“I appreciate the honest assessment from the (group)
about hunting on Santa Rosa Island,” said Capps, who wants
to end “the lucrative private hunting operation . . . so
the public can enjoy full, year-round access to their
Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper said the congressman hopes
to talk soon with the veterans group “to better understand
“The island won't be forced on any organization that
doesn't want it, or feels it won't benefit from the
recreational opportunities offered,” said Kasper, although
that doesn't mean Hunter is dropping his plan from the
Another topic during the conference negotiations will
be an anti-corruption bill that passed the Senate this
summer but whose prospects are uncertain because of
Justice Department opposition.
TAKING UP WHISTLE-BLOWING
Backers of the bill say it restores the Whistleblower
Protection Act, which protects public employees from
reprisals when they speak out against government
corruption. Proponents say a Supreme Court ruling in May
eroded the act's protections by weakening free-speech
rights of government workers subjected to retaliation when
they criticize aspects of their jobs.
The Senate unanimously agreed to put the plan into its
version of the defense authorization bill. The
House-passed version does not include it. Again, lawmakers
must work out the differences in their conference
Good-government advocates say the fate of the bill
rests with Hunter.
“Duncan Hunter can play the deciding role for this
legislation,” said Adam Miles, a spokesman for the
Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower
advocacy group in Washington. “If he backs it, it will
pass. But if he sides with the Justice Department, it's
going to be a major uphill struggle to make it happen.”
Behind the plan are House Government Reform Committee
Chairman Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican, and Henry
Waxman of Los Angeles, the committee's top Democrat. Both
recently wrote Hunter urging his support for the bill.
As for Hunter's thoughts on the matter? Kasper said,
“Negotiations related to the conference process are not
Dana Wilkie is a Washington-based correspondent for Copley
News Service and a longtime observer of California
politics and social issues.