Pendley sacrificed to save vulnerable western GOP senators

War on the West!
William Perry Pendley's nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management was a political liability to vulnerable western GOP senators. (Official photo)
War on the West!
William Perry Pendley’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Land Management was a political liability to vulnerable western GOP senators. (Official photo)

The anti-government, anti-public lands extremist tapped by Donald Trump to direct the Bureau of Land Management won’t get the job after all. Trump is withdrawing the nomination.

Jacky Rosen welcomed the decision. She had joined a group of her fellow Senate Democrats hoping to thwart William Perry Pendley’s nomination to head the agency that oversees 67 percent of, well, Nevada. If it was up to Pendley, that land would be sold off on the cheap, which was one of the many objections to him.

Public lands advocates also applauded the withdrawal. Pendley “has spent his entire career trying to undermine America’s public lands,” said Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities. The withdrawal of his nomination “confirms he couldn’t even survive a confirmation process run by the president’s allies in the Senate,” Rokola said, adding Pendley’s nomination was “toxic to the Senate.”

Pendley is toxic to the Senate, but not because he’s a radical sagebrush rebel hell-bent on giving public lands to powerful industrial interests in roughly rectangularly shaped states out west. You’ve seen today’s Senate Republicans. They love the likes of Pendley.

What makes Pendley toxic to the Senate is the enterprise involving Nevada’s other U.S. senator. Catherine Cortez Masto, you may remember, chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this cycle, which of course wants Democrats to get control of the Senate so maybe then the federal government can get its head back in the game and focus on helping people instead of stopping their mail.

One of the seats CCM & Co. hope to pick up is in Montana, home of a pretty tight battle of the Steves. Gov. Steve Bullock, the Democrat, is challenging Republican incumbent Steve Daines, whose faithfulness as a Trump lapdog is matched only by his obscurity. You think public lands management is a big issue in Nevada? Remember, Montana doesn’t even have a city. 

So not surprisingly Daines initially loved him some Pendley. But a couple weeks ago Daines got squishy on the nominee, to the point that a Daines spokesperson said her boss “is adamantly opposed to the sale or transfer of public lands.”

The fair assumption: Daines saw a poll.

Another Senate seat Democrats hope to flip is in Colorado, where polls have shown Republican incumbent Cory Gardner trailing former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Gardner, too, fancies himself a loyal foot soldier defending The American Way from a “War on the West” waged by civil servants in the Bureau of Land Management. Gardner was one of the key instigators of the plan to neuter the BLM’s administration by dismantling and moving it to Grand Junction and other Western towns, the easier for industry to muscle it around.

And yet Gardner, pressed repeatedly, would not take a position on Pendley’s nomination to lead the BLM.

Pendley’s toxic all right. So toxic, you have to wonder if Cortez Masto almost wishes Trump would have kept his nomination alive.

Rest assured public lands management under the Trump administration will continue to be toxic, even if Trump does as Rosen and others demand, and not only withdraw Pendley’s nomination but remove him from the acting director job he’s been holding. Anti-guvment whackadoodles like Pendley are a dime a dozen. Hell, there are probably at least a dozen of them in the Nevada Legislature alone.

But the withdrawal of one yahoo allows Gardner, Daines (and GOP Senate Leader Moscow Mitch McConnell) to breathe a sigh of relief. No longer having to run the other way from Pendley, they can focus their attention on the true centerpiece of Republican campaign strategy in 2020: Stopping your mail.

Hugh Jackson
Editor | Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.