Could Sen. Enzi support the feds just once?

— May 20, 2014

Kerry Drake

Sen. Mike Enzi must not have received the memo.

Other Republicans in Congress who spent a week in April praising Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy as their personal hero practically fell over themselves in the rush to denounce him as a racist after one of his bigoted rants was broadcast.

The top GOP talking point of the day was clear: Get as far away from this guy as possible, because he’s poison. Which is kind of funny, since he was perfectly OK to cheer when he was just breaking the law by not paying the federal government $1 million and supervising a makeshift militia that had its guns trained on federal agents for days.

If he hadn’t shared his knowledge about “the Negro” and said slavery may have been better for them than living off government handouts, we’d probably still be watching Republicans embrace Bundy on TV daily. Maybe Fox News would have given him his own show, where failed politicians like Sarah Palin could fawn over him and share stories about the evil feds.

Not surprisingly, the low-key Enzi didn’t jump in front of the cameras to talk about what was transpiring at Bundy’s ranch, where more than 1,000 people — many of them armed to the teeth — came to support his fight with the Bureau of Land Management. But plenty of GOP politicians did, including Tea Party favorites Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas, who talked glowingly about Bundy and said his plight represented the federal government’s brazen attacks on its own people.

While Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Bundy and his bunch “domestic terrorists,” fellow Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican, called Bundy a “patriot.” Enzi remained on the sidelines in the cattle battle, so he didn’t have to walk back any statements of support for Bundy when he was exposed as a racist.

Sen. Mike Enzi at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming’s annual meeting in Casper in 2012. A recent email shows Enzi supports Cliven Bundy in his fight against the BLM. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile — click to enlarge)

But Enzi does have opinions about the whole fiasco, and he shared them with a constituent who wrote to him asking what he thought about the standoff between the BLM and Bundy. On May 9 — more than two weeks after other Republicans denounced the scofflaw rancher and pretended they never supported him — the senator responded in an email.

Enzi explained while “the BLM has backed off recently, the threat of armed agents forcibly confiscating [Bundy’s] property is excessive.”

So in our senior senator’s view, the homegrown militia defending a deadbeat rancher — who hadn’t paid his grazing fees and fines accumulated during the past 20 years — was apparently acting responsibly and sensibly. It was the federal government that had gone too far.

That’s truly amazing. I’m just guessing, but I bet if someone owed the IRS $1 million and not only repeatedly refused to cooperate with the agency but welcomed a militia to stop the feds who were confiscating his property, Enzi would side with the IRS.

I think that’s the position he would take in any comparable circumstance that can be concocted to illustrate how a U.S. senator from Wyoming would react — as long as the conflict didn’t involve a rancher, grazing fees and public land, or the energy industry.

The email got even stranger. Enzi wrote he “believes in our system of laws and authority of our courts, but I think that the federal government is going too far to enforce the court order against Mr. Bundy.”

What on earth makes Enzi believe that Bundy is above following a court order that any other American citizen would have to obey? Does every rancher who disagrees with the BLM get a personal “get out of jail free” card from the senator?

Here’s the key portion of Enzi’s email:

“Whether it’s the EPA trying to impose thousands of dollars in fines on private property owners in Wyoming or the BLM aggressively pursuing options on public land in Nevada, this Administration is quick with heavy-handed tactics and I have several pieces of legislation that would help put it in check. I hope we soon have more senators who are willing to help me.”

Notice the transition from the BLM to the Environmental Protection Agency, which is the federal agency the state of Wyoming has in its gunsights? It greatly benefits the state when the EPA is cast as a villain keeping energy companies from developing promising areas of Wyoming. Though not stated in the email, Enzi’s depiction of the EPA goes hand-in-hand with the state’s fundamental argument in its lawsuits against the EPA, which is that Wyoming can do a better job protecting its environment than the federal government can.

In the same sentence, Enzi managed to take a broad swipe at President Barack Obama’s “heavy-handed” policies on public land and environmental protection issues. He topped it all off with the promise —conveniently in this election year — that he has several bills to solve the problems Obama created, but he needs some help from other Republicans. He didn’t reveal what they are, just that they would help put the problems “in check.”

That’s one finely crafted political statement, and it will likely be successful if voters don’t nail down some answers from the senator about what he didn’t say. If he’s taking up Bundy’s cause, what does he think is the proper response from any federal agency when a citizen doesn’t pay a million dollars in fees and fines he’s racked up over two decades, and has ignored all efforts of the agency to collect and a court order to pay?

Is he allowed to just continue breaking the law while his neighbors and every other person in his profession pay what they owe to the federal government? Do the agents come over with milk and cookies and try to talk him into being a responsible citizen, or do they prepare themselves by coming armed when the stubborn rancher vows he’s not backing down?

Maybe Enzi thinks Republicans could solve everything by just voting to shut down the federal government again.

The main point here is that the BLM didn’t break the law, Bundy did. And when the rancher encouraged a ragtag army of armed vigilantes to point their weapons at federal agents and threaten to shoot them, who was being excessive?

One of these brave Bundy backers, a former sheriff, actually said on camera that militia members were considering putting their wives and children in front of them so they would be killed when the BLM opened fire. He insanely thought the public would be reviled by the agency, not them, because the scene these crazies engineered would be so horrific. Perhaps he thought they would get medals for sacrificing their families.

These are the people Enzi is defending?

It’s unbelievable to me how a U.S. senator can accuse the federal government he represents and serves of using excessive force while doing its job in this case. If anything, he should applaud the BLM for recognizing the situation was so volatile it had to back down for the time being. Hopefully this whole mess will ultimately be resolved peacefully, but it was clear from the start the people defending Bundy were itching for a fight so they could kill some feds and create a firestorm across the nation.

My fear is their drive to start a war with anyone who stands in their way won’t end in Nevada; they’ll simply find another chaotic situation and exploit it until people actually die. Perhaps if officials like Enzi would defend the BLM agents working on behalf of America, instead of accusing them of acting excessively, people pointing guns at them might realize they don’t have all of the political ammo they thought they did to get away with it.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. Lets look at the whole story. The BLM shows up with a force of men armed to the teeth, they had snipers (Against American Citizens). There have been numerous accounts of this incident. But the thing to remember is that the BLM is a “Land Management Agency” not a law enforcement agency. Also the land is the property of the State of Nevada, not the US Gov. The Clark County Sheriff’s department should have been the ones to handle this, not a FEDERAL SWAT Unit from an agency that has NO Police powers. Also it had been reported that Bundy had been making payments to Clark County not the BLM and this had been happening for years. It was also reported that Harry Reid and son stood to make money off this property on a finders fee for a Chinese company to build on this property.
    As for Slavery, the US Gov has enslaved many people of all colors and races with Welfare, Food Stamps and so on. The Gov allows rampent illegal aliens to cross the boarder, these people use resources and take jobs. They put millions of people into the job market, so business people can offer lower wages and they find people to take the work.
    As for “Rag Tag Army” that was what the Original “Colonists” were considered by King George and England. I find it hard to believe that they would have sacrificed their wives and children. As liberal as the main stream media is I find it hard to believe a story like that.

  2. Perhaps he has a medical condition, but it feels as if Mr. Enzi is losing his ability for thoughtful consideration. I’ve seldom agreed with his actions, but I have felt he plodded along in his own lane, determined to act as he honestly thought was best for Wyoming. This past week, hearing him joke about “global warming” made me sick to my stomach. He will never see his denial of climate change is dangerous to our national security, our state security, his grandchildren’s future. Your particular issues here are serious and deserving of your fear. How are we ever going to save ourselves?