ALEC and OREGON PROTESTERS

Most of us are now aware of the ongoing takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy and dozens of followers. Ammon and Ryan Bundy are sons of rancher Cliven Bundy, who notably took part in an armed standoff with the federal Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, in Nevada in 2014.

The protesters cite convictions in a local arson case against ranchers for burning more than 130 acres of federal land in 2 separate fires as being the initial cause for the occupation of the refuge. Rancher brothers, Dwight and Steven Hammond were convicted in 2012 and after losing an appeal, were sentenced and to turn themselves in the week of the takeover. The Bundys demand that the two Hammonds be released from custody as their first demand.

A second and more important demand being made by these protesters as they continue to occupy the buildings and grounds of this federal reserve, is a demand that Washington return federally owned land back to the states. Ryan Bundy laid out the militants’ demands: that the surrounding federal lands be ceded to local control.

This reflects a decades-old dispute over land rights in the United States, where local communities have increasingly sought to take back federal land.

According to the Congressional Research Service, in Nevada the U.S. owned more than 81 percent of the land in the state in 2010. In Oregon, that number hovered right around half — 53 percent of the land, more than 30 million acres of which were administered by either the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service.

The federal government owns, maintains and cares for millions of acres nationwide. Over the past two decades the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed for the federal government to turn over much of this land to the individual states. Once transferred, the use of such land becomes the responsibility of the states.

ALEC’s model legislation pertaining to pursuit of taking federal land began back in 1995 and was titled the “Sagebrush Rebellion Act”.

Today, you’ll find no reference to this model legislation at ALEC’s web site because of the exposure it and other proposed “model” legislation has been given upon the “ALEC Exposed” website. ALEC has scrubbed much of their model bills following publication of their entire stash of proposed legislation in 2011.

I urge everyone to read the Sagebrush Rebellion Act to understand exactly what this conservative organization was attempting to accomplish with this proposed state legislation. At a minimum, it proposes to transfer ownership of tens of millions of acres of land to each state and allow them to continue existing leases, grazing, ranching and other income generating pursuits, with the income transferring to the states as well.

Included is the transfer of all mineral, water, oil and similar rights to the states to do with as they please….including leasing the rights to private companies, individuals and/or corporations.

…to permit ranching, mining and timber production and the development, production and transmission of energy and other public utility services under principles of multiple use which provide the greatest benefit to the people of this state“.

As I indicated previously, ALEC has erased all traces of this model legislation from their website of model bills. However ALEC Exposed retains a copy of the legislation as does the Heartland Institute (linked to above).

However, ALEC is still pursuing a takeover of federal lands today. They’ve simply changed the model legislation to a Policy Statement entitled Public Policy Statement on Transfer of Public Lands.

ALEC’s “policy” on the takeover of federal land was approved in January of last year. Below is an excerpt of that document, showing admission that though you won’t find any model legislation pertaining to this issue upon their website, they advise current legislation does exist:

This Draft Model Policy, ratified by unanimous consent on October 9, 2014 at American Lands Council (ALC) Multi-State Workshop convened in Salt Lake City, UT and on October 20, 2014 by ALC Board of Directors, resulted from that summit. This statement is supported by existing ALEC model policy and calls for the restoration to the western states their most basic right – control over their land with important exemptions for national parks, Congressionally-designated wilderness area, Indian reservations and military installations.”

They provide several uses of the land once transferred all of which ensure economic productivity. Section X provides:

x. GENERATE SELF-SUPPORTING FINANCE: Foster compatible economic productivity to support essential government services such as local roads, utilities, emergency services, public health and safety, education, justice, and other civic functions while reducing tax burdens on citizens nationally and offsetting federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes and Secure Rural Schools funds“.

The ALEC Board of Directors approved this public policy on January 9, 2015.

Essentially our friends at ALEC are working to cut federal income generated off these tens of million acres of land. I find this attempt at reducing federal income consistent with their pursuits of lowering corporate and high income taxes. Both the transfer of federal land and reducing taxes cuts off income to the government. With less income, the federal government would have difficulty paying down the national debt, maintaining federal employee workforce and consequently, less of an ability to function. This would allow for a louder hue and cry from the Conservative political right about our government being unable to function and meet budget requirements.

If this sounds far-fetched to you…consider what’s happened to the U.S. Post Office (USPS) since 2005 as ALEC pursued privatization of that federal agency. In 1995 ALEC proposed privatizing the USPS. Then as now, Fed Ex and UPS were members of ALEC with representatives holding positions upon ALEC’s various task forces. Both of these private companies then (and now) complain that the USPS’s first class mail and parcel post contracts are a monopoly owned by the “government” and seek access to both. Fed Ex and UPS argue that back when the USPS was enacted, there were no private companies available or willing to take on the task of delivering mail and packages…but today there are private companies willing and demanding they be allowed to deliver both at a profit.

By 2005 through ALEC they were successful in getting legislation passed by Congress to make the USPS fund retirement and healthcare for workers for the next 75 years! In 2006 the legislation passed and became known as the “Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act”.

Since then the USPS has been forced to set aside billions every year to fund healthcare and projected retirement benefits for workers who haven’t even been born yet. This diversion of income has caused the USPS to be unable to modernize facilities, close many facilities, lay off workers and to defend themselves against the onset of emails to replace “snail mail”.

Once the income was diverted in the manner I described above, ALEC’s Republican Alumni in Congress began expressing their views that the USPS was failing, unable to properly fund themselves or operate. They started the pursuit of privatizing the post office.

Unfortunately this is how ALEC and their Koch funded and backed politicians operate…cut off funding, tax revenue and then offer up a solution of privatization or the selling off of assets – such as federal lands and all the mineral rights.

Today it’s an armed “militia” taking over a federal facility in a remote part of Oregon demanding the federal government release convicted criminals and hand over publicly owned land to the states. It isn’t a stretch of fact to realize that the Bundy boys and their supporters are conservative believers following the proposed legislation and acting upon the ideology provided by ALEC and their conservative state members and Congressional alumni.

For a full comprehensive expose on ALEC’s attacks upon the federal level, please take a few minutes and review VLTP’s “American Legislative Exchange Council – Federal Government and Corrupt Practices” article published in 2011. In this document the chronological attack upon the USPS is laid out beginning on page 24.

Yesterday it was the USPS, today it’s the acquisition of federally owned public land. One can only wonder where ALEC’s next attack will be and when.