- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2018

Ryan Bundy’s run for Nevada governor is surprising only because he was supposed to be either dead or in federal prison by now.

Instead, the 46-year-old son of rancher Cliven Bundy is making his pitch as an unaffiliated candidate to “take Nevada back,” bringing his family’s decades-old fight against federal land management to the voters in the Bundy saga’s latest stranger-than-fiction twist.

Mr. Bundy’s platform starts with having Nevada assume authority over the roughly 89 percent of land within the state’s borders controlled by the federal government, the issue at the heart of his ranching family’s long-standing feud with the Bureau of Land Management.

“I believe the federal government needs to get its hands off our land, off our water, off our minerals, off our guns, off our schools, off our health care, and let the people of Nevada decide our own destiny,” Mr. Bundy says in his latest campaign video. “When I am governor, we will take Nevada back.”

Democrats may not agree with his stances, but they are thrilled with his candidacy. Mr. Bundy has emerged as the wild card in the neck-and-neck contest between Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, and Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak, a Democrat, to succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval.

A Suffolk University poll released last month found Mr. Laxalt and Mr. Sisolak deadlocked at 41 percent each. Mr. Bundy polled 2.4 percent. The race also includes a Libertarian Party and an Independent American Party candidate.

With his name recognition and appeal to rural voters, Mr. Bundy could swing the race for the Mr. Sisolak by pulling votes from Mr. Laxalt, although that is not how the cowboy-hat-wearing Bundy scion sees it.

“I think Laxalt might draw a few votes from me,” Mr. Bundy told The Washington Times.

For Mr. Bundy, one of 14 children, seeking the state’s highest office is no less improbable than his narrow personal escapes or jaw-dropping victories over federal prosecutors on charges stemming from tense, armed standoffs in Nevada and Oregon.

Two years ago, a Portland jury acquitted Mr. Bundy, his brother Ammon and five co-defendants in the takeover of an unoccupied federal building at Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. In January, he walked out of court a free man after a federal judge in Las Vegas threw out charges against the Bundy brothers and their father in the 2014 Bunkerville standoff, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

If Ryan Bundy is fortunate to have skirted a lengthy prison sentence — twice — he is even luckier to be alive. He was hit by shrapnel in the January 2016 confrontation with law enforcement at an FBI roadblock near Burns, Oregon, that left Robert LaVoy Finicum dead.

Mr. Bundy has refused to have the half-inch strip of metal removed from his shoulder. He calls it evidence.

When he was 7, Mr. Bundy was picking melons with his brothers and sisters when a car backed over his head. The gruesome accident left his face partially paralyzed and permanently disfigured.

His “crooked face,” as he calls it, has hampered his vision and his hearing in his left ear.

“It’s affected my vision to some degree because my left eye doesn’t blink nor water properly, so wind and dust greatly affect it,” Mr. Bundy said. “I often have junk in my eye that I have to pick out. Again, because it doesn’t blink, I’ve caught things in my eye that have scratched the cornea to some degree.”

‘Natural step’ to campaign trail

Mr. Bundy’s two years in federal custody have made him passionate about another issue: criminal justice reform. He said the states, with a few exceptions, should be in charge of criminal prosecutions because the “prison industrial complex” and “corrupt” federal system have made it increasingly difficult for the accused to receive a fair trial.

“They deny speedy trial. They deny fair trial. They deny bail. They deny your right to be innocent until proven guilty,” said Mr. Bundy. “And they stress men by placing them in jail until they break, and then they’ll usually take a plea just to get relief. We saw that in our case numerous times where the men had just had enough and they took a plea, said, ‘Oh, I’m guilty,’ and then the judge would release them.”

Meanwhile, the Bundy defendants who maintained their innocence remained in jail.

“That is just upside down from any sort of justice, and yet that’s going on all across this country in all the courts,” Mr. Bundy said. “Well, I can’t change all the country, but I can change Nevada.”

Rather than accept a court-appointed defense attorney, Mr. Bundy represented himself and by many accounts cut an impressive figure in the courtroom. A half-dozen jurors returned to court the day the judge declared a mistrial in Las Vegas, even though they weren’t required to, and at least one hugged Mr. Bundy afterward.

“Ryan was the one who really won that case. He really shined,” said Larry Klayman, an attorney for Cliven Bundy who served as an adviser during the trial. “He wasn’t scared of the judge. He was always very polite, but he didn’t back down, and he was the one who filed the motion that ultimately led to the dismissal. He’s a very smart guy.”

Mr. Bundy, who left college before obtaining a bachelor’s degree, said he received job offers from law firms after the high-profile trial but wasn’t interested. He returned instead to ranching and construction work in Mesquite, Nevada, where he lives with his wife, Angie, and eight children.

Ian Bartrum, a University of Nevada Las Vegas law school professor, called the political route “a natural step” for Mr. Bundy and his family, given that their court cases and dust-ups with the BLM have yet to change public lands policy.

“I don’t think they have a path forward in the courts, and so the political branches represent their best hope,” said Mr. Bartrum, adding that the campaign offers “a giant state from which to make their case on federal land management.”

Mr. Bundy insisted he is not anti-government, just “anti-corrupt government.” He supports President Trump, who has endorsed Mr. Laxalt, as well as school choice and “constitutional law and order,” and opposes sanctuary cities.

He is still irked that state and county officials failed to stand up for his family during the Bunkerville standoff and that they continue to accept what he describes as Nevada’s unequal status.

“We have never been treated as an equal state,” Mr. Bundy said. “If the federal government claims to control upwards of 89 percent of the state, we’re not even close to being an equal state. We’re only 10 percent of a state. That’s not equal. There’s a problem there, and it’s not just Nevada.”

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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