by Jim Malewitz
State Rep. James Frank has been hearing from constituents since February about goings-on along the Red River: The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, citing a series of court rulings dating to the 1920s, had decided that a 116-mile stretch of land belonged to the federal government.
The roughly 90,000 acres included property long ago deeded to residents who had raised crops and cattle and paid taxes on it.
Questions had been swirling in North Texas since December, when BLM representatives came to discuss updates to its resource management plans in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — how the land would be used for the next 15 to 20 years.
So Frank, R-Wichita Falls, and other area lawmakers quietly went to work, first trying to understand two centuries of treaties, litigation and changing geography rooted in the bureau’s claim. They teamed with U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, who had requested information from the agency and was mulling legislative action.
Then came the national headlines.
Amid the bureau’s headline-making standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing fees on clearly established public land, which has little in common with the Red River debate, Texas politicos seized on the border angst of state residents. In statements and national television appearances, Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were among those who spoke of an imminent takeover of Texas land.
“They sure have jumped ahead on talking points,” Frank said, chuckling. “All of a sudden I’m going, ‘Who are all these people sending out statements?’”
But Frank said he was not put off by the attention, sensing an opportunity to raise awareness.
Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, talked of a “potential seizure of land” and sent a letter last week to the bureau seeking more information on its claims. Two days later, after an appearance on Fox News in which he mentioned possible litigation, Abbott’s campaign sent an email with this message for the bureau: “Come and take it.” Continue reading here.