Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador's expression of concern seemed prescient, coming the day before news of comments by Cliven Bundy that sent Sen. Rand Paul and other Republicans into damage control mode.
The Nevada rancher has been celebrated in conservative media, most notably by Sean Hannity on Fox News.
Labrador is a tea party favorite and friend of Paul's, a Kentucky senator eyeing a 2016 presidential run. At Labrador's invitation, Paul will address the Idaho Republican convention in June.
But Labrador told the Ada County Republican Central Committee that he has trouble lionizing Bundy because the rancher is ignoring the rule of law in failing to pay over $1 million in grazing fees to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for running his cattle on public property since 1993.
Speaking to a crowd sympathetic to the rancher, Labrador stepped away from a chance to praise Bundy at a candidate forum Tuesday night. On Wednesday, The New York Times reported Bundy's comments about "the Negro" and his suggestion that slavery wasn't so bad.
Bundy described seeing African-Americans on a porch at a public housing project with nothing to do.
"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" Bundy asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Asked about Bundy at Tuesday's candidate forum, Labrador said: "One of the concerns I have in the Bundy case is that you have a person who appears to have been violating the law. And that really concerns me because it makes it very difficult for somebody like me to speak up against what the BLM is doing.
"Because the federal courts, again and again and again, have told this gentleman that he owes money in federal grazing rights, in federal grazing permits," continued Labrador, who graduated from high school in Las Vegas, about 80 miles from Bundy's ranch. "Now he claims that he doesn't owe that money, but the courts have disagreed with him."
A lawyer, Labrador cited the case of another Nevada rancher, Wayne Hage, who battled the BLM in court but continued to pay his bills. In 1999, Hage married then-Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth, a predecessor of Labrador's. Both Hage and Chenoweth-Hage are now deceased.
"The BLM did the same things to (Hage) and when they did it to him, he was actually paying his grazing permits, and he was doing all the things that he needed to do," Labrador said.
GUN RIGHTS AFFIRMED
Labrador concluded with a critique of BLM policy, mixing in a shout-out for gun rights.
"Clearly the federal government is overreaching. What I find sad - even if you agree that Mr. Bundy should have paid his grazing permits - it's really scary to think that the federal government can come in to collect on a debt at the point of a gun," Labrador said.
"That should never happen. They should have put a lien on his property; they should have put a lien on the cows; they should have put a lien on a bunch of different things. But they should never be coming in at the point of a gun and trying to take you off a property.
"And that's why - this is the difference between people who believe in the Second Amendment and who don't believe in the Second Amendment: The Second Amendment isn't there so we can hunt. The Second Amendment is there so we can protect ourselves from the government."
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics