In January, former sheriff John Rutherford rode his high horse to the nation’s capital as a freshman Republican congressman.
If this were a movie, an ill-intending senator—perhaps Ted Cruz—would be endeavoring to corrupt the newcomer. But Rutherford ain’t Jefferson Smith. Nosiree Bob, indeedly he ain’t. In an August interview with the St. Augustine Record, Rutherford gushed about the border wall, Dumpstering the Affordable Care Act, and said—I shit you not—that President Trump’s strengths are “foreign policy and international relations.” He also said that when Trump referred to “fine people,” he doesn’t believe “he was talking about neo-Nazis … or Antifa, or Black Lives Matter.”
No big surprises; after all, Rutherford did refer to BLM as a “hate group” on the campaign trail. But if you need a minute to compose yourself, I understand.
Ready? OK. Since taking office, Rutherford has sponsored or cosponsored scads of legislation in which veterans’ affairs, immigration and national security—recall his tour of the site of The Great Wall of Isolationism—are common themes, though there is an interesting outlier in the “Reef Assassin Act,” cosponsored by 11 members of Congress, including locals Al Lawson, Ted Yoho and Ron DeSantis. The act is designed to encourage fishing of invasive lionfish, currently decimating life of and on coral reefs. (Its title may also be the name of my future beat-boxing improv group.) For every 100 lionfish caught, the fisherpersons get their choice of fishing for a red snapper, triggerfish, amberjack or gag grouper in federal waters, regardless of season.
The act’s purpose is undeniably sound. But environmentalists may take issue with the logic, which is akin to letting anyone who bags 100 bull pythons in The Everglades kill a river otter off-season. (Yes, it’s legal to hunt otters. Still.)
The gag grouper is one of several dozen species in the process of recovery. But before you excitedly Google recipes, you should probably read what experts say about snappers, triggerfish and amberjack. In short, things ain’t looking good, and this law isn’t going to help.
See, fishing and hunting seasons are designed to allow species to reproduce and, ideally, thrive long-term so that future generations may someday know the thrill of blowing away bewhiskered aquatic mammals that are among the planet’s most intelligent creatures. Creating exceptions to seasonal limitations, even with a good purpose, not only contravenes the intent of such restrictions, it often encourages poaching.
Lionfish are an incredibly challenging environmental scourge. That’s why far brighter minds than mine have been hard at work on solutions, including contests and lionfish-bagging robots—controlled in much the same way one plays a video game—which shock and trap the fish for later eating (they’re delicious, apparently). So perhaps instead of letting folks fish off-season, Congress should incentivize development and large-scale implementation of the robots. ’Cause if the planet somehow survives the Trump Administration, it might be nice to wet a line for amberjack someday.
Last week, Rutherford showed his fealty to the wild-eyed extremists who catapulted his man-crush Donald Trump to office when he voted with House Republicans (except three who wisely found something better to do and two who had the guts to deviate from Team MAGA marching orders) to ban abortion after 20 weeks. The act is unlikely to pass the Senate, but don’t think his vote merely symbolic. Rutherford cosponsored the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act and released a statement after the vote referring to abortion as “violence against children” and waxing on how darn-tootin’ proud he was to “save lives and shield unborn babies from a horribly painful death.”
The bill and Rutherford’s statement are rife with inaccuracy. First, fetuses are not “children,” under law or in reality. Second, and rather important, scientists do not agree that fetuses are capable of experiencing pain at 20 weeks. In fact, the vast body of research, including that of the American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, has found that the neurological wiring that transmits pain to the brain is not developed until at least four weeks beyond that. Even after the mechanics are developed, ACOG reports, due to other physiological factors, a fetus is incapable of perceiving pain until at least the third trimester, which begins at 28 weeks.
Not for nothing: States widely restrict third-trimester abortions except in narrow cases which involve risk to either the mother’s or fetus’ life or health. Also not for nothing: The U.S. Supreme Court has been crystal-clear on such bans—they are unconstitutional.
Maybe now would be a good time for Congressman Rutherford to have one of those town halls the kids keep talking about. But since that’s unlikely, we’ve shared his office’s upcoming mobile office hours. I’m sure his staff will be thrilled to hear from you.
St. Augustine Mobile Hours, 2-4 p.m. Oct. 11, St. Johns County Administration, 500 San Sebastian View, St. Augustine.
Duval County Mobile Hours, 2-4 p.m. Oct. 13, Oceanway Community Center, 12215 Sago Ave. W.
Jax Beach Mobile Hours, 2:30-4:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Jacksonville Beach City Hall, 11 N. Third St.