MESQUITE — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul told an audience in Mesquite that he supports relinquishing federal management of public lands.
Paul, a U.S. senator from Kentucky, stumped Monday in a Southern Nevada town not far from the 2014 armed standoff between armed federal agents and Bunkerville rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters over a cattle roundup.
Bundy’s son, Ryan Bundy, asked Paul about what role the federal government should play.
“I’d either sell or turn over all the land management to the states,” Paul said, drawing a hearty round of applause from an audience of about 80 in Eureka Casino that included the elder Bundy.
The tense April 2014 armed standoff, which included militia members supporting Bundy, unfolded after the rancher didn’t pay grazing fees for using public lands for more than 20 years and wound up owing the federal government more than $1 million in fees.
The Bureau of Land Management rounded up most of Bundy’s herd of 500 cows, only to allow their release to avoid bloodshed in the armed standoff.
The range cows, released from a corral off Interstate 15 between Bunkerville and Mesquite, about 80 miles north of Las Vegas, continue to graze on public federal lands.
“State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership,” said Paul, the son of former Congressman Ron Paul of Texas, who ran for president as a Libertarian and sought the GOP nomination.
In the 1830s and 1840s the federal government sold land readily, Paul said, adding that now “you run into problems with the federal government being this bully.”
Paul pivoted to broader themes beyond the standoff, criticizing as burdensome how the federal Endangered Species Act is enforced. In one small Kentucky town, he said, a sewer plant that wanted to expand to prevent the dumping of sewage into a river first had to do a study of the impact on pocketbook mussels.
“The government’s gone way too far,” Paul told the friendly audience of the libertarian-leaning enclave.
In an interview, Paul said he doesn’t have a concrete plan for changing federal public lands management. He said he believes land sales, or a transfer to state ownership, or a combination would be a good idea.
That would keep residents in far-flung states from being forced to deal with distant bureaucracies, Paul said.
“It’s a long way to Washington,” Paul said. “That’s why people came out here — to get the heck out of government.”
About 81 percent of Nevada is under the control of different federal agencies, with the BLM overseeing the largest share.
“It would be easier if it were done more locally,” Paul said, adding that more local involvement would help avoid situations like the standoff.
In an interview, Cliven Bundy said Paul’s focus on the U.S. Constitution, limited federal government and pulling public lands out of federal control lines up with his values.
“We’re a little bit like Obama — we’re ready for a change,” Bundy said, smiling at his obvious dig at President Barack Obama’s call for change during his campaign for a first term in 2008.
Bundy said the federal government hasn’t bothered him since the standoff, adding that he enjoys the peacefulness on the land without the presence of federal officials.
Since the standoff in April 2014, federal officials have said they will pursue the matter.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the Review-Journal last week she is confident that Bundy will be held accountable and said, “The wheels of justice move at their own pace.”
Mesquite was part of a four-stop tour Paul did Monday in Nevada that included Reno, Elko and Las Vegas.
Contact Ben Botkin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904. Find him on Twitter: @BenBotkin1.