Wednesday, March 25, 2015 | 2 a.m.
It’s 500 miles from Bunkerville, there’s no cattle and plenty of red tape.
For the Bundy family, the Nevada Legislature seems like the last place it wants to be.
But nearly a year after the family’s standoff with the Bureau of Land Management, Cliven Bundy and his family are relocating their fight from the open range to the Nevada policy arena.
Ammon Bundy, the son of Cliven, traveled to Carson City Tuesday to meet with Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, a Republican who was front and center at the standoff between the BLM, the Bundy family and a cadre of militiamen in Bunkerville last April. The visit pre-empts a visit next week by Cliven and more legislative meetings on bills calling to limit the federal government's power in Nevada.
While it could be construed as an attempt to remain relevant, Ammon and Fiore describe the stab at political activism as a means to thrust more ranchers and everyday citizens in political power. They say they’re developing a grassroots campaign replete with mailers, robocalls and door knockers. The efforts dovetail with at least five Republican-backed bills aiming to limit the federal government’s authority on public lands in Nevada.
Ammon — a soft-spoken man who stuffs a Constitution in his front pocket — has no intentions of causing a stir in the Legislature. He plans on meeting with lawmakers to talk about one of the critical bills he’s worked on with Fiore, AB 408.
The bill has 14 Assembly Republican sponsors along with a Democrat and a GOP senator. It declares a swath of federal land the “common property of the citizens of the state.” It prohibits the federal government from claiming water rights and owning any land in the state unless it’s a military operation or the Legislature approves of the occupation.
The bill gives the state responsibility to distribute permits for grazing, mining, logging and other uses. County commissioners would collect a tax from the proceeds of the permits.
“It is very simple,” Ammon said. “The land belongs to the people. It doesn’t belong to the government and it doesn’t belong to the state.”
Last April’s spectacle in Bunkerville was a high-tension brouhaha like no other in recent history. It rekindled the national debate on federal land issues unseen since the Sagebrush Rebellion of the 1970s and 1980s.
Federal agents drew weapons on the Bundy family and killed some of its cattle. Wandering commandos with sniper rifles took aim at BLM employees, patrolled the desert like mercenaries and followed Cliven like disciples. The eldest Bundy, whose name was unknown to America the month before, held press conferences and spoke with The New York Times. He was the darling of the right wing and the center of a 24-7 media buzz until he wondered aloud to the Times about whether blacks were better off as slaves.
But the Bundy family is still a household name and a divisive topic in American politics. The BLM claims the Bundy family owes decades worth of grazing fees while the ranchers say the land is their own. The Bundys haven’t seen a federal agent on their land since April. The BLM handed the case to the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI. There have yet to be arrests or court orders. But repercussions for the family are expected to come this year.
The Bundys are not Fiore’s constituents in her Las Vegas district. But the second-term assemblywoman has been able to use the standoff to launch a policy platform calling to limit the federal government.
Fiore and the Bundy family have developed a close bond since they first met during the standoff. Fiore showed up among in the federal agents and militiamen in a sportscar and was the only state lawmaker on scene.
Since then, she’s been to the Bundy Ranch on multiple occasions and has invited them to her home. She treasures a picture of her grandson standing with them.
“I’ve adopted many Nevadans across the state when their elected officials don’t step up to the plate,” Fiore said.