Top Texas leaders fired fresh salvos Thursday as they accused the federal government of trying to seize property that they say belongs to local cattle ranchers, a dispute that involves the same agency embroiled in an armed standoff over land in Nevada.
Outgoing Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the front-runner in the race to succeed him, insist that politics has nothing to do with their recent public criticism of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The issue involves up to 90,000 acres along the Red River, which marks the border with Oklahoma. Last summer, the Bureau of Land Management began holding field hearings about possibly revising regulations on federal holdings in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.
That’s a multiyear process, but it caused some ranchers to raise concerns that their land could be expropriated as part of an updated “Resource Management Plan.”
“If this country’s to stay the land of freedom and liberty, private-property rights must be respected,” Perry said Thursday in an interview with CBS This Morning.
The governor, who isn’t seeking re-election but hasn’t ruled out a second presidential run, is a fierce states-rights advocate who once suggested that he understands how some citizens could get so fed up with the government that they might want to secede from the United States.
This week, Abbott wrote to the Bureau of Land Management, saying he is “deeply concerned” that it “believes the federal government has the authority to swoop in and take land that has been owned and cultivated by Texas landowners for generations.”
Agency spokeswoman Donna Hummel countered that it is “categorically not expanding federal holdings along the Red River.”
The battle brewing in Texas comes against the backdrop of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher and states-rights advocate at the center of a national feud with the Bureau of Land Management over cattle grazing on public land.
His case had become a rallying cry for conservatives nationwide, though Bundy has also been criticized for racist comments published in The New York Times.
Nevada ‘a side issue’
Asked about Bundy on Thursday, Perry called the Nevada case “a side issue” compared with what’s occurring in Texas.
Meanwhile, Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said by email Thursday that Abbott’s letter to the agency was “in no way related to the dispute in Nevada.”
She said that Abbott’s office first received complaints from North Texas constituents about the Red River case and that its staff has been investigating since.
Still, Abbott followed Perry’s comments with a fundraising email Thursday claiming that the federal government is trying to “seize private property” in Texas.
Abbott’s letter noted that the Bureau of Land Management had proposed a scenario whereby 90,000 acres in the area was ceded to the federal government but that doing so would require congressional approval.
‘A socialist society’?
Ken Aderholt, 60, who farms and ranches just north of Harrold, said he could lose up to 600 of his 2,000 acres — an area including his home, barns and pens.
“It does make you angry, almost like we’re in a socialist society,” Aderholt said.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, and George P. Bush, a GOP candidate for land commissioner, have joined Perry and Abbott in expressing concern about the possible property dispute with the federal government.
Bush, the grandson of one former president and nephew of another, promised that if elected, he’ll “do everything in my power” to stop the Bureau of Land Management in the Red River area.