Mesquite, Nevada (CNN)Rand Paul argued Monday that public lands run by the federal government should be handed over to state or local control, making a crowd-pleasing rally cry in Nevada where 67% of the state is overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.
With Cliven Bundy listening, Rand Paul jabs BLM in Nevada
Sitting in that audience was Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who became a national figure last year after staging a standoff with the feds over a BLM dispute.
"I'd either sell or turn over all the land management to the states," Paul, a Republican presidential candidate and senator from Kentucky, said, landing him big applause at a campaign event. "I don't think the federal government needs to be involved."
On the third leg of a four-stop tour across the early caucus state, Paul made his comments at the Eureka casino in Mesquite in Southeast Nevada -- not far from Bundy's home.
Paul said Washington has become a "bully" that often goes too far in the regulation of both public and private land.
"You run into problems now with the federal government being, you know, this bully — this big huge government bully," he continued. "You would have less of that if you had more local ownership of the land. State ownership would be better, but even better would be private ownership."
In spring 2014, Bundy quickly become a conservative icon in his fight against the federal government, one that was punctuated with images of armed militiamen rallying to his side.
Like many Republicans, Paul initially supported Bundy's cause last year but joined a conservative chorus that quickly repudiated the rancher for making racist comments.
The two reportedly met at Monday's event in Mesquite, but Paul and his campaign declined to answer questions from reporters about Bundy at a rally later Monday in Las Vegas.
"In general, I think we're in tune with each other," Bundy told the Associated Press. "I don't think we need to ask Washington, D.C. for this land. It's our land."
Paul, in his speech Monday in Mesquite, railed against government regulations of private property as well and listed anecdotal stories of what he considered extensive federal overreach. The senator urged the audience to fight back — but made sure to note that it should be done legally.
"It is time that we stand up -- in a legal fashion — but stand up and let's say 'enough is enough' and let's elect people who will get the government off our back," he said.
At issue recently have been debates over whether the greater sage grouse — a type of bird — should be listed as an endangered species, a move that would significantly affect the regulation of land along the California-Nevada border. The lesser prairie chicken has also been subject to debate.
Paul suggested that the private ownership of more land would help save some species.
"Sometimes I'll say flippantly if you sold the chicken to somebody, there'd be plenty of them," he said. "When things are owned, there's lots of cows. Cows are not endangered. Neither are chickens, really. The sage brush grouse would probably be less likely to be endangered if somebody owned it and allowed it to reproduce. So there are ways of handling it."