A Republican lawmaker from the midcoast who has been a major player in debates over hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation plans to resign his Senate seat later this year to take over the top staff position at the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine.
Sen. David Trahan, R-Waldoboro, received the unanimous support of SAM’s board of directors on Thursday to become the next executive director of the state’s largest advocacy group for sportsmen. Trahan indicated he likely would vacate his Senate seat and begin with SAM in September, replacing former Secretary of State and SAM board member Matt Dunlap, who has been serving as interim executive director since January.
“It’s something I’m very passionate about,” Trahan said in an interview Thursday evening. “I got involved in politics as a sportsman.”
A logger by trade who was elected to six terms in the Legislature, Trahan is well known among Maine’s sporting community as well as inside Republican circles along the midcoast.
He is a longtime member of the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee and a former member of the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Advisory Council.
During the legislative session that just ended, he helped shepherd through the process language changes that eventually could funnel more money from the Land for Maine’s Future program to protect winter habitat for deer.
He also led an unsuccessful effort to present voters with a proposed constitutional amendment to earmark a portion of Maine’s sales tax for the DIF&W and the Department of Marine Resources. Trahan and other supporters argued that the state has failed to live up to its funding obligations and many Maine residents — as well as tourists — benefit from the services provided by the departments’ game wardens and biologists but do not purchase licenses that finance the department.
As SAM’s executive director, Trahan said he would focus on encouraging investment in the state’s fish hatcheries, restoring the deer herd and encouraging more young people to get involved in hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities.
Trahan can also be a dogged campaigner. He helped lead last year’s controversial people’s veto campaign that overturned a tax reform proposal passed by Democrats and signed by former Gov. John Baldacci. And this year as co-chairman of the Taxation Committee, he helped craft a tax cut package that was incorporated into the two-year, $6.1 billion budget that took effect this month.
Dunlap said SAM board members asked Trahan questions about his priorities as executive director and how he would work in Augusta.
“They all know him pretty well from his work in the Legislature and they loved his answers,” Dunlap said. “There is no question they wanted him for the job.”
Trahan will take over leadership of a 14,000-member organization that has struggled both financially and administratively in recent years. Former longtime executive director George Smith — who was the public face of and fierce lobbyist for SAM — stepped down in late 2010 after it became clear that the board and Smith had different ideas about the job.
Smith’s successor lasted only a few months, however, and Dunlap was hired after the new, Republican-controlled Legislature selected Republican Charlie Summers Jr. to be secretary of state.
Dunlap said he agreed to take over at SAM in order to help put the organization on more stable financial and administrative footing. He notified the board that he did not desire to remain as the permanent executive director, however. A former Democratic state lawmaker, Dunlap is considering running in 2012 for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe.
Trahan will have to resign his Senate seat because a major part of the SAM executive director’s job is lobbying the Legislature.
On Thursday, Trahan said he plans to consult with the Maine Ethics Commission about when and how he would resign his Senate seat. Because the GOP holds a sizable majority in the Senate, Trahan’s departure will not affect the balance of power. A special election will be held to fill the position.
Trahan said, after 30 years in the physically demanding logging business, he felt it was time to seek other employment for health reasons.
But the Waldoboro Republican also expressed disappointment in the political climate in Maine. Without naming names, Trahan said he believed he had been “treated very poorly” by some within his own party and within the tea party movement over certain issues. Moderate Republicans were also the targets of unfair treatment, he said.
In the closing days of the legislative session, Trahan was blasted by some members of the tea party for his bill proposing a constitutional amendment to earmark part of the sales tax for the two natural resources agencies.
The aggressive campaign against the bill appeared to succeed in turning the tide against a measure that had strong support from sportsmen’s groups, including SAM, as well as environmental organizations and some GOP legislative leaders.
While describing himself as thick-skinned, Trahan said vitriolic attacks were discouraging and were hard on his family.
“The tone … of politics today is very harsh and it did play a role in my decision to do something different,” he said.