On the streets of Denver, where Doc Holiday once sought refuge, the same ground where a gold strike once changed the course of American history, SWAT teams stand ready.
Armed with AR-15s and canisters of pepper spray, they watch from behind dark sunglasses. Some pose for photographs with visitors to Democratic National Convention, proof for their friends back in Iowa and Michigan that they, too, roamed the streets of Denver alongside heavily armed cops and the Secret Service. Proof that fear lurks somewhere in the dark alleys of Denver. Proof that heads will be broken and busted if you step out of line in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
Democrat or Republican. Male or female. Rich or poor. Holiday or political junket. Those now roaming the streets of Denver believe this election, which officially began with the DNC this week, will change the course of history. Again. And forever.
Originally, I had planned to remain many, many miles away from lower downtown this week. Even without the influx of 80,000 additional visitors jammed into the dark brick canyons of "LoDo," as the place is affectionately called by the locals, it could easily be mistaken for the Wild West. Depending upon the position of the sun.
This is one of those times, my friend.
Drunks, sharks and lizards frequent the bars and occupy the cars. Music drifts a mile high. Rock and roll. Reggae. Country. Punk. The mingling sounds of a melting pot. And the occasional smell of burning pot.
On New Year's Eve last year, my wife and I were standing just a few blocks from a drive-by shooting that took the life of a Denver Broncos player. Naturally, we assumed it was merely celebratory shooting, as often happens in LoDo. Of course, we learned differently the next morning on ESPN.
With the DNC coming to our state this week, we were fully prepared to watch the speeches and bedlam on television, from the peace and quiet of our farm over 100 miles east of the big party.
But all that changed last week when I was asked to speak to fellow sportsmen and members of the media gathered for a meeting in conjunction with this week's DNC.
As an avid hunter and fisherman from Colorado, I obviously had no choice, despite my aversion to microphones and podiums.
I wanted to make sure our concerns — the concerns of avid hunters and anglers — were represented. So, reluctantly, I agreed to speak at a reception Wednesday hosted by the National Wildlife Federation Action Fund. I was in "good company," I was told, and the company included Rep. John Dingell, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
If you were expecting an opinion — opposed to these observations — you are going to be disappointed. Having learned my lessons many years ago, I will not publicly endorse either party or candidate in an upcoming presidential race. Bad form. But as a proud and outspoken member of the outdoor media, I will recommend this: VOTE.
As he has often demonstrated in both words and meaningful outdoor legislation in the U.S. Congress, Rep. John Dingell reminded us that sportsmen will ultimately dictate the future of hunting and fishing in America with their votes in November. And not by some strange coincidence, Dingell's message was the theme of the National Wildlife Federation gathering: "I Fish, I Hunt, I Vote Conservation."
As I tried to emphasize to those in attendance, the challenges we face have never been more daunting. We are fast approaching a crossroads with our wildlife, wild lands and water resources. Deadly pathogens are crippling fisheries. We're awash in exotic species. Our basic right to GO hunting and fishing is being compromised.
I've never been much for politics. I'm a registered Independent, as a matter of fact.
But as the years pass, and as I've watched these threats switch from "yellow" to "bright orange" on my outdoor barometer, all of that has changed. And I hope all bass fishermen will also become fully engaged in the weeks leading up to the first Tuesday in November.
Investigate the issues and the candidates on your own. Think for yourself. Don't let others dictate your views and opinions.
As Sen. Blanch Lincoln of Arkansas told the audience, this upcoming election is also about the future of America's natural resources and how our next President and Congress will protect and manage this national heritage.
And Lincoln reminded everyone that she has a vested interest in the outcome. After all, she's an avid hunter and angler, herself, and the parent of two young boys who share her love of the great outdoors.
Vote conservation. You owe it to your children and grandchildren.