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Matt Rosendale Cannot Be Trusted with Our Public Lands or The Constitution

While Sunday’s rather gentle profile of Montana’s best fence-mending rancher Matt Rosendale left out a number of his worst votes—his vote against kids with Down Syndrome, his repeated votes against veterans, and his votes against firefighters—it did make one thing abundantly clear: Montanans cannot trust Matt Rosendale to protect our public lands.

Backing up his earlier interview with Montana Public Radio, Rosendale told Montanans that he doesn’t believe in the transfer of federal lands to the state, a move that would inevitably lead to the privatization of many treasured pieces of Montana land. According to the IR piece:

Rosendale has shifted views on some issues as he’s learned more about his adopted state.

When he ran for the U.S. House in 2014, he said he’d support a transfer of federal lands to the state. This year, he said in an interview that after several years of traveling Montana, “it is clear that the general populous (sic) … does not want those federal lands transferred and I’m fine with that.”

That’s some change. Back in 2014 when he was running for Congress, Rosendale told the Missoulian that he wanted to transfer almost all federal lands to the state and that federal ownership of public lands in Montana violated the Constitution:

Republican U.S. House candidate Matt Rosendale is proposing that the federal government transfer U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands in Montana to the state to manage and control.

Federal lands make up 35 percent of Montana.

“The U.S. Constitution clearly defines the purpose for the federal government to retain land for post offices, batteries and things like that,” Rosendale said. “There is no call in the Constitution for the federal government to own national forests or BLM land and just to manage those additional lands.”

There’s a lot to unpack there. Not only did Rosendale endorse the extremist position that the federal government should transfer millions of acres of land to state management, but he argued that, other than for post offices and military installations, it violates the Constitution for the federal government to manage and own land.

That’s some extremist nonsense. And it makes me wonder why the Lee Papers reporter didn’t follow up when writing about public lands. Rosendale’s excuse that he listened to the people of Montana is implausible, given his tendency to only speak to right-wing audiences, but it’s also irrelevant if he truly believed that federal land management violated the Constitution.

It seems like an awfully important question: was Rosendale wrong or lying in 2014 or is he wrong or lying in 2018?

What does he believe the Constitution says about federal land management today?

Rosendale had more to say in 2014. He told Chuck Johnson that he had been working with the American Lands Council to transfer federal land in 2014. The American Lands Council is the preeminent advocate for federal lands transfer and the group that famously includes Yellowstone, Glacier, and Montana’s Indian reservations in the lands it wants states to seize. They do, however, helpfully point out that Rosendale did vote for a crackpot bill to establish a public lands task force in 2015.

In this interview with Northwest Liberty News, Rosendale makes his views clear: that states’ rights demand the transfer of federal lands. In fact, he does so far as to call PILT payments from the government nothing more than “welfare for the state.”

It was appropriate for Montana Public Radio and the Lee Newspapers to report this week that Matt Rosendale no longer supports the transfer of federal lands, but it’s not enough to let him get away with saying he’s changed his mind. Given the passion with which Rosendale argued for lands transfer in the past—and his belief that the very idea of federal land management is against the Constitution—the media must demand he explain how those views changed and when they did.

As for me, I don’t believe a word of it. Rosendale has certainly seen the polling and has seen how Montana voters feel about politicians who want to threaten our public lands, so he’s saying what he thinks we want to hear.

What Mr. Rosendale can’t seem to see or ever manage to do, though, is what Montanans want most: for him to just tell the damn truth.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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