Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Fish That Saved Minnesota

The MN government shutdown looks like it’s about to end shortly, with a whimper instead of a bang. Before we close the curtain on this sorry spectacle, we should remember one of the stars of this drama. A man who came to represent the true face of the state government and what it can do for the people.

Ladies and gentlemen, your Department of Natural Resources commissioner:

"It's black and white -- you must have a license to fish," said Tom Landwehr, Department of Natural Resources commissioner.

A non-controversial, if marginally dictatorial, statement under normal circumstances.

But what if it’s not black and white? What if a shade of gray is introduced that says you can’t get a fishing license because those with the power to grant them won’t give them out? What if you’d like to comply and would be happy to jump through the regulatory hoops and pay the price to get a license, but through no fault of your own, the state refuses?

That has been the situation in Minnesota since the shut down began on July 1. You can’t get a fishing license. Since most vacationers and casual fisherman don’t buy licenses until the day of, or maybe the day before, fishing, this is a problem. It is a critical problem for those whose livelihood depends on people fishing.

Rather than roll over and accept absurd reasoning for ruining their income, well meaning people tried to adapt:

Some resort owners -- desperate to retain customers -- have been collecting license money from their nonresident guests and giving them receipts to carry in lieu of a fishing license, saying they will buy licenses for them after the shutdown ends.

That certainly sounds reasonable. Something that a well-meaning public servant would have to accept, right?

That's no good, Landwehr said. "You can't have an IOU or say 'I intended to get a license,'" he said. "You must have a fishing license in your possession while you are fishing."

Violators risk a fine and court costs of about $150.

You get the sense he doesn’t quite understand the public service aspect of being a public servant.

Adding insult to this injury, while the government refuses to give people licenses to fish, they have no problem continuing to enforce the requirement that you need a license.

"I expect when an officer finds a flagrant violation that they will issue a citation," he said. "This is a very simple thing: If you fish without a license, you're blatantly violating the law."

It reminds me of that old adage: Give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime. License a man to fish, and you can feed or starve him at your whim.

The good news is, the shutdown should soon be coming to an end, thanks to the legislature agreeing to give Governor Dayton a few more billion dollars for government programs. The bad news is, that billion dollars is going for more “public service” like we’re getting from the DNR.