In Defense of a Duck-Killing New Hampshire Politician

State Rep. David Campbell's impassive reaction to running over a half-dozen birds is odd, but he made the safe, responsible choice.
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A statue in Boston Common inspired by Robert McCloskey's Make Way for Ducklings (theilr/Flickr)

News item, August 19:

"One man remains hospitalized and two cars were totaled in a 4-car injury collision apparently caused by drivers' response to two ducks in the middle of the freeway."

News item, December 28:

"A Florida man called police last week after watching a state representative from Nashua plow his BMW into a crowd of ducks outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, reportedly killing one or more of the birds, then exiting the scene before police arrived."

Guess which of those two stories is getting more attention?

If you guessed the second, you're right. One reason is that people are way too fond of cute animals. Another is that the driver in the second case is a New Hampshire state representative, and his reaction to the mallard mortalities was reportedly rather cavalier.  An eyewitness said that Campbell said something along the lines of "The ducks should have moved." Rep. David Campbell, a Democrat, wasn't any more contrite in an interview with the Nashua Telegraph“I hit some ducks,” said the politico, who was cruising in a 5-series BMW at the time of the accident. “Some people were feeding ducks on the driveway in front of the Crowne Plaza at 10 o’clock at night … and they didn’t move, and I hit some ducks.”

That's cold, and Campbell is being accused of a fowl misdeed; fellow New England public servant Michael the Policeman would be appalled. Many of Twitter's most colorful comments are unprintable in a family publication, but suffice it to say people think Campbell is an unremorseful duck murderer. The representative told the Telegraph that police were investigating, but it's not clear that there any laws he might have broken. (What are the odds that the two of the biggest political stories of December would both revolve around men who kill ducks?)

True, Campbell probably wouldn't be in the crosshairs if he'd evinced (or even faked) some contrition. But let's not get carried away: Making way for ducklings may not actually be the best move, as the August news clipping from Washington makes clear. There are thousands of animal-related car wrecks every year, and law-enforcement and insurance experts recommend that drivers not swerve to avoid smaller animals—such as ducks—unless they're completely sure they can move without hitting a human or another car. "Best practice, when an animal enters the roadway, don't swerve to avoid it. If you can straight-line brake, then do so. If not, strike the animal," a Washington state trooper told MyNorthwest.

Campbell might know this better than anyone. He's the chair of the state house's Public Works and Highways Committee and sponsored a 2009 bill that bans texting and driving. He's a kindred spirit to Maine state Senate Majority Leader Troy Jackson, who sponsored 2009 legislation lengthening moose-hunting season in an effort to reduce moose-related car accidents. Despite that law's passage, Jackson hit a moose again in November—the fourth time he's done that.

As a year of public frustration with political leaders comes to an end, maybe Campbell deserves praise. This is a chance to pat a legislator on the back for doing the responsible thing, even when it wasn't popular—just the sort of profile in courage John F. Kennedy lauded. 

And failing that, whatever happened to live free or die? In properly libertarian New Hampshire fashion, these birds made their choice.

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David A. Graham

David Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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