Idaho’s Labrador: Nevada rancher battling BLM should have paid his bills

In another example of his keen political instincts, Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador distanced himself from Sen. Rand Paul and others championing Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.

Labrador is a tea party favorite and friend of the Kentucky senator eying a 2016 Republican presidential run. At Labrador’s invitation, Paul will speak to the Idaho Republican convention in June. Bundy also has been celebrated by other politicians and conservative media, most notably Sean Hannity on Fox News.

But Labrador told Ada County Republicans he has trouble lionizing Bundy because he’s ignoring the rule of law in failing to pay over $1 million in grazing fees to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for running his cattle on public property since 1993.

Labrador stepped away from a chance to laud Bundy Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the New York Times reported on Bundy’s comments about “the Negro” and his suggesting slavery wasn’t so bad after all. Paul initially was unavailable for comment Wednesday but on Thursday issued a statement, saying, “His remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”

Apparently smelling a rat, Labrador didn’t fall into such a trap when asked about the Bundy case at a candidate forum hosted by the Ada County Republican Central Committee. Otherwise he’d be joining Paul and others in damage control.

“One of the concerns I have in the Bundy case is that you have a person who appears to have been violating the law,” Labrador began. “And that really concerns me because it makes it very difficult for somebody like me to speak up against what the BLM is doing.

“Because the federal courts, again and again and again, have told this gentleman that he owes money in federal grazing rights, in federal grazing permits,” said Labrador, who graduated from high school in Las Vegas, about 80 miles from Bundy’s ranch. “Now, he claims that he doesn’t owe that money but the courts have disagreed with him.”

Labrador went on to college at BYU and earned his law degree at the University of Washington.

Labrador cited the case of another Nevada rancher, Wayne Hage, who battled the BLM in court but continued to pay his bills. Late in life Hage married then-Idaho Congressman Helen Chenoweth, a predecessor of Labrador’s in Idaho’s 1st District. Both Wayne and Helen Chenoweth-Hage are now deceased.

“The BLM did the same things to (Hage) and when they did it to him he was actually paying his grazing permits and he was doing all the things that he needed to do,” Labrador said.

Setting aside the fame enjoyed by Bundy, Labrador continued with a critique of BLM policy and mixed in a shout-out for gun rights.

“Clearly the federal government is overreaching. What I find sad — even if you agree that Mr. Bundy should have paid his grazing permits — it’s really scary to think that the federal government can come in to collect on a debt at the point of a gun,” Labrador said.

“That should never happen. They should have put a lien on his property; they should have put a lien on the cows; they should have put a lien on a bunch of different things. But they should never be coming in at the point of a gun and trying to take you off a property.

“And that’s why — this is the difference between people who believe in the Second Amendment and who don’t believe in the Second Amendment: The Second Amendment isn’t there so we can hunt. The Second Amendment is there so we can protect ourselves from the government.”

Labrador’s answer brought hearty applause, once again demonstrating his deftness in appealing to a very conservative base without compromising his oaths to uphold the law as an attorney and a congressman.

He’s long brushed off as a distraction questions about President Obama’s birthplace, saying he believes the president was born in Hawaii and should be opposed on policy grounds. He’s attempted to convince supporters hostile to immigration reform that a compromise would be healthy for humanitarian and economic reasons and is essential for the future of the Republican Party. Labrador was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Nevada with his mother while in junior high school.

Video of Bundy’s remarks is available on the Times website. A link to the Wednesday’s New York Times story is in the fourth paragraph of this blog. Here’s an excerpt from Wednesday’s report by Adam Nagourney on Bundy’s comments about African-Americans:

(Bundy) said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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