U.S. Congressman Steve Pearce's extremism is out-of-step with his constituents, while Merrie Lee Soules promises us vigorous, competent, and thoughtful representation in Washington.
Mr. Pearce consistently lets his ideological views outweigh our interest. He helped shut down the government, costing taxpayers at least $20 million*, simply to make a political statement he knew would fail, although Pearce poses as a prudent fiscal conservative. Even most Republicans in Washington can't stomach the nuttiness of Pearce and the “Freedom Caucus.” [* A friend informs me I was too kind to Pearce here, and that the official estimate by the Office of Management and Budge was that this senseless shutdown in 2013 cost us $2 billion.]
For someone who's taken an oath to defend the Constitution, he's way too cozy with the Bundys and others who oppose Constitutional federalism, sometimes violently, and put their personal interests above the public's.
The well-armed Bundy Bunch took over Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon last year. Already in default on public grazing leases, the Bundys wanted the refuge “returned to the state” so ranchers could do as they wished with it. (The group's slogans about freedom reduce to grabbing ranchers' freedom at the expense of birders', hikers', and environmentalists' freedoms.) That Malheur was federal land -- with authorities trying to balance the interests of campers, hikers, hunters, ranchers, and environmentalists -- meant nothing, because the Bundys loath the U.S. Government.
So, it seems, does Pearce, who voiced sympathy with the takeover: "[P]eople in the West are furious. They're furious going into this situation. We're fed up." (But he said he was “not taking sides on the Bundys”!)
In 2011, Pearce backed Otero County's dangerous and futile challenge to the U.S. Government's Constitutionally granted power to manage federal lands. Otero County threatened to “treat” 1,500 acres of National Forest, and to arrest any U.S. official who interfered.
Wyoming had unsuccessfully made the same weak argument to U.S. appellate courts in 2002. But Pearce egged these guys on, echoing their contempt for the U.S. Government and the Constitution. The U.S. sensibly caved on a minor point to avoid threatened violence, then won handily in the courts. Pearce irresponsibly boasted of his participation and encouraged “other local areas” to emulate Otero County – days before the Court of Appeal summarily trashed Otero County's legal arguments.
These are odd positions to take when you've sworn allegiance to the United States. The quaint legal positions of the Sovereign Movement make little sense and have been rejected by the courts. Even the Bundys, now being tried for their crimes, are mighty silent about their ideology. If I were a misguided “patriot” facing criminal charges, wonder how I'd feel about Pearce egging me on from the safety of the sidelines – then making political capital out of my passion?
Pearce's politics also trump his decency: Trump disparages Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and Pearce has called Trump's comments on women “horrid,” yet Pearce supports Trump. He tries to save face with his constituents by claiming he doesn't “endorse” Trump, but merely “supports” him – whatever that means. More double-talk.
He says he can't support Hillary Clinton because of Benghazi. Pearce and his conservative pals cut budgets, endangered diplomats' security, then made Clinton their scapegoat.
Merrie Lee Soules is forthright, hard-working, and constructive. She's already fighting for us: her intervention in the El Paso Electric rate case helped save us millions.
Soules brings progressive values and decades of real-world business experience to the possible job of representing us in Congress. She'll carry Las Cruces, and may appeal as well to politically moderate businesspersons who might be ready to exchange Pearce's costly shenanigans for a more thoughtful, evidence-based approach.
Let's elect someone who'll fight for us, not banks and oil companies; who combines progressive values with business sense; and who weighs evidence rather than obeying ideological biases.
[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News and other newspapers today, Sunday, October 16, as well as on the newspaper's website and on KRWG-TV's website. I welcome comments, questions, and criticism here and/or on those sites.]
[I should note that I left messages for Mr. Pearce early Monday, inviting him to comment for the column, but never heard back from anyone. There are questions I'd have liked to ask him, and I'd have liked to give him an opportunity to address what obviously seem to me problems with his candidacy; but his previous comments on these matters are a matter of record.]
[I mention the Otero County incident. Otero County -- perhaps with reason -- disagreed about forest management. That was a matter within Federal discretion. Some in Otero County disputed that, even disputed Federal jurisdiction, and threatened to take action -- which could have led to violence. The Feds compromised by allowing Otero County to take down some trees in a public "kickoff event," but only within a small area where the Feds had already marked some trees to be taken down. This avoided potential violence while the case moved swiftly through the courts.
Pearce left no doubt where he stood: in a piece published in The New Mexican on September 26, 2011, he urged other local governments to "follow Otero County's lead so as to regain an alleged 20,000 logging jobs he claimed were lost when the spotted owl was listed as an endangered species." His piece explained the law and the facts in somewhat idiotic fashion:
1. Despite the unambiguous Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, Pearce pontificated that "I have continually said that forest management can only be done successfully if local government is an equal with the federal government."
FACT: The Supremacy Clause, for easy reference, reads:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States . . . shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
The Senators and Representatives . . . both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
In short, legally the local government is not an equal to the federal government with regard to managing public lands. The Constitution says so pretty clearly, adding that people in Pearce's position must support that Constitution.
2. Pearce wrote, "Recent events in Otero County prove that local governments are more than capable of managing their lands. Their plan was legal and . . . initiated what will hopefully be the renewal of the timber industry in New Mexico . . . If we can get local governments to take the initiative and tell the federal government that enough is enough."
FACT: Some of his pals and allies threatened violence. Had the Federal Government been less patient, people might have died or been injured. Perhaps innocent people would have been hurt. Showing more good-sense than Pearce and his pals, the Feds agreed under pressure to let Otero County officials do a symbolic "kickoff" in a one-acre parcel where the Feds had already marked trees for cutting. Then the Feds quickly consulted the courts.
3. Pearce added "[T]he U.S. Constitution specifies which powers are given to the federal government. The 10th Amendment of the Constitution states that all powers not given to the federal government belong to the states and to the people. The right to determine how the forest should be managed belongs to states, counties or the people. It is a local issue that directly affects our homes, our communities, and our safety."
FACT: Four days later, the 10 Circuit Court of Appeal rejected these arguments on summary judgment. That means the court didn't even have to bother with an actual trial. Pearce's legal arguments were that lame. He should have known (must have known?) those arguments weren't an accurate statement of the law, because the 10th Circuit had tossed out exactly the same arguments in a 2002 case where Wyoming sued the U.S. (showing more cool-headed judgment right there than Pearce and his pals did), claiming the right to vaccinate elk to protect local herds of cows from bruccellosus. The 10th Circuit explained that the Supremacy Clause means what it says.
So the question remains, why did Pearce incite and encourage all this anti-governmental rhetoric, which wasted court time and resources and could have wasted a few lives, when he must have known it was all legally frivolous? (I assume he knew that because I give him credit for being smart enough to talk to a lawyer; but perhaps I err.)]
[Pearce also backed the recent Malheur Refuge takeover, at least implicitly.
It's worth recalling the "cause" that the Bundys and Pearce used to justify action: local ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond had set a fire to protect their land from an approaching fire, and had thereby damaged federal land (and endangered firefighters they knew were nearby). Mandatory sentence for their conduct was five years' imprisonment. A friendly judge reduced Dwight's five years to three months (and reduced Steven's I forget how much), which federal courts later rejected.
I loathe mandatory minimums. Reading the account, it's easy at first to sympathize with the Hammonds; but the 2006 fire was their second known arson, as they had also started a fire (on federal property or their own, depending on whose view you buy) that burned 139 acres of public land.
Further, the elder Hammond apparently had assaulted a federal refuge staffer in 1994; had made death threats for years against refuge managers; repeatedly violated terms of permits and moved herds across the refuge without giving the requisite advance notice; often allowed his cattle to trespass on refuge streams for days, trampling new willow trees that crews had just planted; and evaded serious jail time only because of the intervention by the local Republican congressman.
In January 2016, Pearce voiced sympathy with the takeover, without actually condoning it: "[P]eople in the West are furious. They're furious going into this situation. Now I'm not taking sides on the Bundys. I think that's a sideshow. I think the Hammonds are the ones who have been badly treated, and that's what we're expressing in the West. We're fed up." It's worth noting that the tone and substance are sympathetic with the Bundy's, who are at that point committing crimes against the U.S. Government Pearce supposedly serves; and "I'm not taking sides on the Bundys" states flatly that he refuses to take the side of the U.S. Government against criminals. (Note that he did not say "I'm not taking the Bundy's side" or "I'm not taking sides with the Bundys.")
On January 7. 2016, Steve Pearce released a statement on the Malheur Refuge takeover stressing that "we understand their frustration with increasingly heavy-handed federal agencies that continue to violate the rights of hardworking American farmers and ranchers. He stated that he did not condone the takeover; but as far as I can tell, he certainly didn't urge the out-of-state ranchers to abandon their illegal control of the Oregon refuge.
At a NM Cattle-Growers Association meeting, a Pearce ally said of these eventa, "Two men accidentally burned 140 acres of tumblewoods and they are in prison in Oregon for five years mandatory for setting the fire." Pearce himself spoke moments later, saying "we are in a fight for our lives," adding that the government will not and cannot secure the border, they do not desire to secure it, and they have not secured it."
[FACT: the border protection is working much better than it did in the past.]]
[Few sane citizens realize there's actually a "Sovereign Movement" which holds that for some arcane legal reason having to do with the paperwork ending the Civil War, elected county sheriffs are actually the highest legitimate law-enforcement officers in the nation. (Some county sheriffs tend to like that idea, and I learned about this stuff while I was looking into our previous sheriff's hiring of a gentleman named Seeberger.)
[If I were a Bundy cohort, or misguided patriot, pleading guilty to a crime, how would I feel about Steve Pearce egging me on from a safe spot on the sidelines -- then making political capital out of my passion and anger?]
As a citizen of this Congressional District I'll vote for Merrie Lee Soules with great delight. She's so superior to Pearce that one friend of mine, after witnessing their recent debate in Las Cruces, said he "almost felt sorry for Pearce." She's a longshot. Pearce has an abundance of money from banks and oil and gas companies and the National Rifle Association. But each vote counts. And Pearce's support for Trump, who appalls even most Republicans, ought to weaken his credibility, particularly here.