By Betsy Blaney & Will Weissert
AUSTIN, Texas — Top Texas leaders are accusing the federal government of trying to seize property they say belongs to local cattle ranchers, a dispute that involves the same agency currently embroiled in an armed standoff over land in Nevada.
Outgoing Gov. Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the front-runner in the race to succeed him, insist politics has nothing to do with their recent public criticism of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
At issue are 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 the possibility of revising regulations of federal holdings in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. That’s a multi-year process, but it caused some ranchers to raise concerns 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 even suggested that he could understand why some citizens could get so fed up with the government that they might want to secede from the United States.
Earlier this week, Abbott wrote to the Bureau of Land Management, saying he is “deeply concerned” 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.”
Donna Hummel, spokeswoman for the agency, 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 also has taken sharp criticism for racist comments he made that were published in the New York Times.
Asked about Bundy on Thursday, Perry called the Nevada case “a side issue” compared to what’s occurring in Texas.
Meanwhile, Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for the Texas attorney general’s office, said via e-mail Thursday that the letter Abbott sent the agency was “in no way related to the dispute in Nevada.” She said Abbott’s office first received complaints from North Texas constituents about the Red River case and since then its staff has been investigating.
Still, Abbott followed Perry’s comments with a fundraising email Thursday claiming the federal government was trying to “seize private property” in Texas.
Abbott’s letter noted that the Bureau of Land Management had previously proposed a scenario where by 90,000 acres of land in the area was ceded to the federal government — but that doing so would require congressional approval, and that a law passed in 2000 did not provide the boundaries the agency sought.
Ken Aderholt, 60, who farms and ranches just north of Harrold, Texas, said he could lose as many as 600 acres of his 2,000-acre property — 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 Texas lieutenant governor, and George P. Bush, a GOP candidate for Texas land commissioner, have both joined Perry and Abbott in expressing concerns 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’d “do everything in my power” to stop the Bureau of Land Management in the Red River area.