I started hanging out at the Legislature in the 1970s when I worked for Congressman David Emery, but I wasn’t a lobbyist until I started working for the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine in 1991.

It was not unusual for me to submit 20 to 25 bills each legislative session. And even after I left SAM, I still submitted bills for myself and spent time at the Legislature. Early on I learned that perseverance was important.

For example, it took me 8 years to get the sportsmen’s license plate. And just as I expected, it quickly became one of the state’s most popular plates. After all, who wouldn’t want a moose and brook trout on their license plate?

One of the bills I am most proud of protected our native brook trout in their lakes and ponds. Maine has all the native brook trout left in our country, so this is a very precious and important resource. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife actually opposed our bill, but the Legislature enacted it and the governor signed it into law. I was very pleased last year when, thanks to the leadership of the department’s commissioner, Judy Camuso, the department extended that protection to the tributaries of those brook trout lakes and ponds.

One of my very favorite bills proposed to make the whoopie pie our state dessert. I jumped in to help the owner of Wicked Whoopies in Gardiner with her proposal. It was my all-time favorite legislative hearing because she filled the room with whoopie pies. Yup, it was a very tasty hearing!

But we were surprised when the blueberry growers showed up to ask that the blueberry pie be designated as the state dessert. So the Legislature designated the blueberry pie as our state dessert and the whoopie pie as our state treat. I do hope you are enjoying both!

I am particularly proud of the creation of the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was my idea when I worked at SAM. We took a poll and discovered that many people would support the idea and thought we should get our money from an instant lottery game. So that’s what we proposed.

I recruited Maine Audubon to partner with us on the project, and we collected signatures to put it on the ballot, but the Legislature surprised us by enacting it and the governor signed it into law. I served on the Heritage Fund board for 10 years, and as of now, the fund has awarded more than $20 million in grants, many of them for outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat projects.

Of course, not all of my bills were enacted. Over the years I submitted all kinds of Sunday hunting bills with no success. In fact, I was usually the only proponent. Even the other sporting groups opposed the bills. One year I submitted a Sunday hunting bill on behalf of North Maine Woods, which wanted to offer Sunday hunting on their 3 million acres. And even though the landowners wanted it, we could not get it. My final bill would have allowed you to hunt on Sundays on your own land, and we could not even get that. I don’t think we will ever hunt on Sundays in Maine.

I always enjoyed working with the state’s environmental groups on important legislation that focused on protecting Maine’s best places, including wildlife habitat. Programs like the Land for Maine’s Future have done a terrific job protecting these very special places. I hope you are able to get out and enjoy some of our public lands.

This year, the University of Maine Alumni Association will be presenting me with a lifetime achievement award. The presentation was supposed to take place at a dinner and celebration on April 24 at UMaine’s Wells Conference Center on the Orono campus, but the dinner has been canceled.

While it is wonderful to be receiving this award, I have to recognize that I would’ve accomplished nothing if I had not reached out to others for help and received the support of many groups, legislators, and others.

And I know this award was not based on my four years at the university, because I majored in intramural basketball!

 

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.


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