Ted Cruz, Guardian of the Land

February 20, 2016

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks during a campaign event at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina February 19, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Ted Cruz, it seems, is going after the Cliven Bundy vote.

The Texas Senator and Republican presidential candidate began airing an ad this week in which he pledges to give control of Nevada’s federally managed land, which accounts for 85 percent of the state, to ranchers. It landed just a day after Bundy, a Nevada rancher who in 2014 engaged the government in an armed standoff over grazing fees, was extradited to the state from Oregon, where he was arrested and charged last week with six felony counts related to the standoff.

Bundy drew support in 2014 from a smattering of other ranchers and Americans who felt the federal government was trying to take away their land rights and guns, but he also drew widespread criticism, especially after musing that African-Americans may have been better off when they were slaves.

Late last year, an armed group led by Bundy’s sons took over unoccupied buildings on a national wildlife refuge in Oregon and vowed not to leave until the government gave up the land. While The standoff ended Feb. 11, after 41 days.

More Nevadans than just the Bundy crowd follow land management issues because the federal government owns so much of the state’s land it’s hard for the state government to collect tax revenue. But in the ad Cruz pledges to “return” the land to the people, as if the federal government had recently taken it away. In fact, though it’s been a perennial issue for a century already, legal experts say the question of states’ right to claim federally owned land in the West is fairly settled as a matter of law.

In the ad, Cruz attacks rival Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, saying billionaire businessman would leave the land in the hands of the federal government. A spokeswoman for Trump did not respond to a request for comment on the ad.

But the political director of environmental organization Sierra Club Khalid Pitts had something to say: “Both Trump and Cruz would be horrible for our public lands and for our environment, so we’re not sure what they really have to fight about here.”

Additional reporting by Grant Smith and Ginger Gibson.

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