All Politics is Local

McLaughlin’s ‘cautionary fable’ for conservatives

Steve McLaughlin

With less than three weeks until ballots are due, Steve McLaughlin, the Republican candidate for commissioner of public lands, has told a national monitor of extremist organizations that he “definitely regrets” how he came to be associated with far-right individuals and groups during the campaign.

Speaking to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch blog, McLaughlin made maybe his most emphatic effort to distance himself from movements espousing conspiratorial worldviews and hostility toward federal ownership of lands. The association has dogged McLaughlin in his race against Democrat Hilary Franz, the former executive director of environmental group Futurewise, for the office. Just this week, Washington Conservation Voters, which backs Franz, released an ad attacking McLaughlin.

“I definitely regret being pulled into that orbit,” he told Hatewatch. “That’s not who I am.”

The problem for McLaughlin began when state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, asked him about supporting a protest the Coalition of Westerns States (COWS), a group of hard-right state legislators, was organizing against the federal government for re-sentencing two eastern Oregon ranchers to prison for arson.

McLaughlin signed on to a letter drafted by COWS that described a “a literal, intentional conspiracy to deprive ranchers of their property rights throughout the west,” and claimed that the group sought to “once and for all restore management of public lands to the states where it belongs.”

The protest escalated with a group of militants taking over Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. McLaughlin disavowed the occupation, but since then he’s rubbed shoulders with groups and individuals the SPLC considers to be extreme.

The SPLC’s account is charitable to McLaughlin, writing that he gave “Hatewatch reasonable explanations for all these associations, mostly the result, he said, of his own embrace of patriotic values.

However, the SPLC describes McLaughlin’s experience as “something of a cautionary fable for well-meaning conservatives.”