Although media coverage of this primary season has focused on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) loss to a Tea Party-backed candidate, four candidates who sympathize with outlaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s fringe views about public lands have surprisingly and quietly won their party’s nominations for competitive races across the American West.
If elected in November, these four candidates would join the 15 incumbent members of Congress and a collection of state and county elected officials who, similar to Bundy, endorse the expensive and unpopular notion that America’s public lands should be seized by the states or sold off for drilling, mining, or logging.
As highlighted throughout the “Bundy’s Buddies” series and on the website BundysBuddies.com, state proposals to seize federal lands are not only extremely expensive for U.S. taxpayers—and taxpayers in the states that wish to seize lands—but they also are fundamentally unconstitutional.
The views of the four candidates profiled below are surprising in part because these individuals are vying for office in relatively competitive elections but are touting views of public lands that, according to public opinion research, are out of the mainstream. Recent polling by the Colorado College State of the Rockies Project shows that Westerners deeply value public lands and are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports selling public lands to reduce the deficit.
Below are the four Bundy’s Buddies who have recently secured their party’s nomination and will be on the November ballot in competitive elections across the American West.
1. County Commissioner Tootie Smith (R)
Tootie Smith won her primary race on May 20, becoming the Republican candidate for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District. The Clackamas County commissioner is a vocal supporter of removing public lands from federal control, and, as The Oregonian reports, “the issue that really gets her going is federal land management.”
Smith has continued to emphasize her position on public lands, urging the federal government to “return all federal lands in Oregon back to the counties where they are located and let the people manage them.” She has also stated publicly that she thinks “counties and cities know how to take care of their own environmental standards.”
Smith began her career in politics fighting federal restrictions on logging in the 1990s and will likely continue to make her stance on federal land policy a primary focus of her campaign against incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) in the November general election.
2. Former Mayor Mia Love (R)
At the first debate between Love and Democratic candidate Doug Owens, Love affirmed her stance on public land seizures: “I completely support the return of Utah lands from the federal government back to the state of Utah,” she said.
This race has already begun to garner national attention. The Washington Post describes Love as a “highly touted Republican recruit,” and Reuters notes that she “could become the first conservative black woman elected to U.S. Congress.” Love was narrowly defeated in her quest for Rep. Matheson’s seat in 2012.
3. State Sen. Mark Hutchison (R-NV)
Mark Hutchison, a state senator who was “hand-picked” by Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R), won his primary race for lieutenant governor last week, a race that Las Vegas Weekly says “will go down as the most expensive in Nevada’s history.”
In April, Sen. Hutchison reportedly attended a Salt Lake City conference of leaders in the movement to seize federal lands, which was held while the Bundy controversy was unfolding in Nevada. “This really is a call to arms for us in Nevada, and I think for all the Western states,” Sen. Hutchison said at the time.
The lieutenant governor of Nevada presides over agencies that are particularly important to land management. As Las Vegas Weekly notes, “Nevada’s lieutenant governor serves as president of the State Senate, chairman of the State Commission on Tourism and vice-chairman of the State Board of Transportation—not exactly small responsibilities.”
4. State Rep. Lawerence Denney (R-ID)
Idaho State Rep. Lawerence Denney recently advanced in his bid for higher office, winning the Republican primary for Idaho secretary of state on May 20.
Rep. Denney is no stranger to promoting efforts to seize public lands as the co-chair of Idaho’s Federal Lands Interim Committee, which has already paid a private law firm $40,000 to study what it would look like for the state to seize public lands.
Rep. Denney has previously claimed, “These lands are currently being managed for purposes other than (timber) production. … In many cases, they’re being managed as wilderness, with no financial return.”
A win for Rep. Denney as secretary of state would give him a seat on the State Board of Land Commissioners, which manages Idaho’s endowment lands and thus any lands that the federal government would turn over to the states should Idaho’s efforts succeed. As the Associated Press reports, “Denney has said he wants to be an advocate for the state to take full control of its federally managed public lands on the Idaho Land Board.”
The figure below shows the Bundy’s Buddies who won their party’s nomination for the November 2014 elections, as well as the upcoming primaries to watch this summer.
Upcoming primaries to watch
As primary season continues to heat up this summer, more of Bundy’s Buddies will face primary and general elections in competitive races across the West. Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) is again running for governor of Colorado. He faces three other candidates in the Republican primary election on June 24. He has publicly supported Bundy and has previously argued that “the federal government should have long ago transferred its massive holdings to the private sector.”
In Arizona, two of the Republican candidates running in the first congressional district, Gary Kiehne (R) and State Rep. Andy Tobin (R), have both expressed strong support for private and state ownership of federal lands. Kiehne notes on his website that he will “work to transfer control of this land back to the states and to private individuals,” and Rep. Tobin has stated that he believes that “Arizona is better capable to manage our lands than a bureaucrat from Washington DC.” The Republican candidate that will face incumbent Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ) will be decided late this summer in an August 26 primary.
Even as the list of Bundy’s Buddies candidates and elected officials continues to grow, they remain a small minority in the U.S. Congress and are well outside the mainstream of public sentiment in the American West. The Salt Lake Tribune calls the land-seizure movement “a public land scam.” Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has decried the efforts as “a radical cry to wrest our national forests and prairies away from public ownership.” It can be called many things, but for taxpayers, it boils down to seeing their elected officials spend their money to lock them out of their own lands.
Claire Moser is a Research and Advocacy Associate with the Public Lands Project at American Progress. Matt Lee-Ashley is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Public Lands Project at American Progress.