Republican Rep. David Livingston of Peoria frustrated his fellow representatives on Tuesday when, during voting on a half-dozen bills, he stood to “explain his vote” but actually described his experiences over the weekend at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada.
Livingston was part of a delegation of lawmakers that went up to the southern Nevada ranch to show support for Cliven Bundy, a rancher who has for years refused to pay grazing fees for the cattle he ranches on federal land. Bundy has entered into a standoff with the federal government, which has threatened to round up his cattle.
The ranch has become a rallying cry for conservatives and states-rights activists, who argue that the Bundy family has a right to ranch on the land since their family was there before the Bureau of Land Management even existed. Bundy has said he does not accept the authority of the federal government on the issue.
“What has happened up there has changed my life,” Livingston said on the House floor.
Livingston started his almost poetic retelling of the weekend’s events by describing the “dusty, rocky” ranch with a “small river running through it.”
“This event was not about a ranch, this event wasn’t about cattle, it wasn’t about the trail. It was all about power. It was about showing who had the power,” he said.
Livingston, who was accompanied by several other Arizona Republican lawmakers on the trip to Nevada, said there could have been a massacre on the ranch over the weekend, and the federal officials would have been the victims of the armed ranchers and militia groups.
“The BLM would have been massacred in that valley… Why one bullet wasn’t fired, I do not know… It was God’s grace,” he said.
But after several updates about Livingston’s weekend at the ranch, standing up with armed ranchers and activists against the federal government, House Democratic Leader Chad Campbell of Phoenix had had enough. Campbell started calling out the ranchers and activists, who he said told Fox News that they were planning on putting the women and children between them and the BLM officials in case it came down to bloodshed.
“This is crazy… These are not patriots, these are cowards,” Campbell said.
Republican Rep. Kelly Townsend of Mesa, who went with Livingston to the ranch with Livingston, stood to tell Livingston to cut out the Bundy Ranch talk and defend her fellow lawmakers after Livingston implied that they should have been there. While Livingston skipped work at the Legislature Monday to stay at the ranch, Townsend said she drove through the night to make it back to vote on bills and do her duty as a state lawmaker, rather than to stay for a Monday press conference at the ranch.
“I felt like it would have been shirking my duty to the state to stay there Monday… That wasn’t a good enough excuse to be absent,” she said afterwards.
Democratic Rep. Lisa Otondo of Yuma got a big round of applause on the floor from even the conservatives in the room when she told Livingston to cut out the Bundy Ranch talk and focus on “our constituents, our work.”
House Speaker Andy Tobin of Paulden even chimed in and said the House had a lot of work to do – the House had 54 bills scheduled for a vote on Tuesday – and asked lawmakers to stay on topic.
But that didn’t stop Livingston, who said he was within the rules and had five minutes per bill to explain his vote however he chose.
Republican Whip Rick Gray noted on his Twitter page that if Livingston took five minutes to speak on every bill, he would have kept the House there for more than four hours to hear about the Bundy Ranch. But in the end, Livingston only spoke on about a half-dozen bills, but said the issue isn’t over.
“You may not like what I’m doing today, but I’m within the rules,” Livingston said on the floor.
Afterwards, Livingston said the rally to support Bundy wasn’t about a rancher who didn’t want to pay his federal grazing fees – and called that issue a “smoke screen” to hide what’s really going on. Instead, he said the rally was about control of the land in the West, and the fact that the federal government has pushed ranchers out of business.
Livingston argued that the federal government should turn over all federal land in the West to the states.