Republicans should force Harry Reid to choose. U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) could easily transfer much of the 84% of Nevada land owned by the Federal Government to his own State’s ownership and control. Instead Reid is promoting the power of the U.S. Government and the Democrat Party at the expense of his constituents.
Harry Reid could be a hero within his State. But the Senator clearly doesn’t give a damn about Nevada’s voters. And Republicans should force the issue and make it obvious. Of course, the Mafia-like treatment of Reid’s family business attacking rogue rancher Bundy’s family business to cash in on a Chinese company’s solar farm on the Bundy land is also emerging at the same time. That scandal is developing in parallel.
In 1996 Nevada citizens voted overwhelmingly to return Federally-owned land to the State. In 1993 and 1995 the Nevada legislature voted unanimously to remove that part of Nevada’s State constitution which gives the Federal Government ownership of these “unappropriated lands” and take back the land from Federal control.
Republicans could change the tenor of the 2014 elections (even further) by hammering Reid over the Bundy Ranch uproar. Although Reid personally is not up for re-election until 2016, excessive Federal ownership of Western lands is a huge irritant in many Western States like Alaska. Hammering Reid could put Democrats on the defensive in general and sideline Reid from campaigning. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) needs to introduce legislation and put Democrats on the hot seat.
The Elko Daily Free Press reported “States challenge Congress’ ability to control lands” on April 11, 2012:
“Perhaps no other issue to arise in Carson City has enjoyed such widespread support as the need to secure the state’s rights to its own land. In 1979, Nevada lawmakers passed the “Sagebrush Rebellion” statute, rejecting the constitutionality of federal claims to unappropriated lands in Nevada.”
So why isn’t Reid standing up for the clear desires of Nevada voters and Nevada’s State legislature? As U.S. Senate Majority Leader, Reid has the power and influence to swiftly and easily implement the requests from Nevada’s legislature to treat Nevada equally with other States.
- First, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives would enthusiastically vote to treat Nevada like a grown-up, full State and vote to reduce Federal control over Western States.
- Second, Reid runs the U.S. Senate with an iron fist. He has the clout to add at least 6 Democrat votes to the 45 Republican Senators, to pass such legislation with 51 votes. But such legislation backed by Reid would probably clear with 80 to 90 votes out of 100.
- Third, the Democrat Party including Barack Obama would have no choice but to follow powerful Reid’s lead.
Renegade Rancher Cliven Bundy is shining a spotlight on this issue. The hair-raising show-down between the Bureau of Land Management and militia supporting the cattle rancher is raising questions. Bundy insists that the State of Nevada, not the U.S. Government, owns the land his cattle are grazing upon. Bundy claims that he was paying grazing fees to Clark County, but the County stopped accepting his payments.
Bundy’s objection is that in every territory that became a State, the Federal government “owned” or controlled all the land managed as a “territory.” But once a “territory” achieved Statehood, all of the land was relinquished to the new State.
So how is it that the U.S. Government owns 84% of Nevada? It is almost as if Washington, D.C. is treating Nevada as a child that cannot manage itself. Nevada citizens are being discriminated against.
In 1864, when the U.S. Congress voted to make Nevada a full State, the “Enabling Act” retained Federal ownership of “unappropriated” lands. But no details were specified about how much land or which land. Nevada’s September 7, 1864, State Constitution includes a section titled “Ordinance” which adopts various restrictions from the Enabling Act “unless otherwise provided by the congress of the United States.”
So Congress could vote tomorrow morning to release some or all of that land to Nevada. The legal restriction says “unless otherwise provided by the congress of the United States.” Nevada’s own senior Senator could get that done by the Fourth of July. But Reid doesn’t give a fig about what his State’s citizens want.
Many Western States were not created equally with Eastern States. Congress reserved vast amounts of Federally-owned land in the “Enabling Acts” for their Statehood. Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution requires an Act of Congress to create a State. The Enabling Acts were the procedure.
But there is a big question. The withholding of Federal land within Western States may also be entirely illegal. Federal ownership of Nevada land may be null and void.
A U.S. Supreme Court case declared unconstitutional a nearly identical provision within Alabama’s Enabling Act. In Pollard v. Hagan (1845), the high court decided that “the United States never held any municipal sovereignty, jurisdiction, or right of soil in and to the territory of which Alabama or any of the new states were formed; except for temporary purposes.” As soon as new states were formed, said the Court, “the power of the United States over these lands as property was to cease.”
The Bundy’s brought legal challenges – but they acted as their own lawyers. A well-presented legal challenge by an effective legal team under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Pollard v. Hagan could show that the Federal government’s claim to 84% of Nevada land is unconstitutional.
Nevada legislators have long argued that Federal ownership of 84% of their land violates the “equal footing” standard laid out in federal case law, and they have repeatedly sought redress of this grievance. The legislature has declared:
“The attempted imposition upon the State of Nevada by the Congress of the United States of a requirement in the enabling act that Nevada ‘disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory,’ as a condition precedent to acceptance of Nevada into the Union, was an act beyond the power of the Congress of the United States and is thus void.”
Shouldn’t the U.S. Congress act now in the face of such a risk that Federal ownership is illegal to begin with? Massive Federal ownership is inconsistent with the concept of Statehood. It is discriminatory among the States. (Note that any restrictions within the Enabling Act probably expired once Nevada became a State, because Congress cannot take back Statehood.)
Nevada voters should demand that the U.S. Senate led by their own Harry Reid and the U.S. House led by John Boehner end this discrimination and release the “unappropriated territory” to the management and ownership of Nevada.