Only One Defender of Property Rights in Congress

Across the American West there roams a predator. It terrorizes all who cross its path, it destroys lives and wipes out whole villages. Its name is environmental regulation and it’s a sub-species of an animal called government. When it goes on the hunt, few dare oppose it.

Western property owners have felt its bite for several decades. Those who lived and prospered on Federal lands began to have their water rights and grazing rights challenged by federal agents, even though their claims were well documented and many dated back over three generations. Property owners suddenly faced another kind of invader called endangered species. Let one be sighted in a distant pasture and suddenly the whole farm was threatened with shut down.

Meanwhile, many of those elected to go to Washington to defend property owners did little to change the situation. Instead, the “need” to protect the environment was preached like a Sunday sermon. But the property owners knew that they were good stewards of the land. They knew that it was they who had turned the desert green and created habitat good enough for endangered species to choose it to live on. Why were they now, suddenly the villains? Who were their champions? Where were those they had elected to speak for them?

Apparently, within the new green consciousness that had overtaken Washington, D.C., defending property rights had become a dangerous undertaking for those with political ambition. You either played ball with the new “ecologarchy” or you weren’t taken seriously. There would be no money to fill your campaign coffers and there would be massive opposition at the polls. In spite of rhetoric to the contrary, few dared step out of line.

To be a defender of such rights one had to understand that without ownership of property, no other rights are possible. There can be no products produced if there is no security of the land where they are grown. If contracts and mortgages can be snatched away with any change in the political wind then there can be no society, no rule of law. All that is left is a brutish mob, ready to strike at any victim unable to defend himself.

Such are the roots of our society. The federal government, armed with regulations that allowed the taking of property at the whim of the next bureaucrat in charge had become such a mob. Where would one find someone to take on the brutes? In Idaho, there was such a champion. Her name was Helen Chenoweth.

After years of helping to organize opposition to the green lobby and countering their lies, Helen answered the call by running for the United States Congress. Her message was simple; the green predator was no longer going to wage an unopposed reign of terror over the people of the West. Overcoming one of the most vicious battles ever waged for the U.S. Congress, Helen won and headed for Washington, D.C. as part of the freshman class of the 104th Congress.

She quickly learned that in the surreal world of the nation’s capitol, tough rhetoric was ok for the campaign trail, but, there it was more important to get along and follow the agenda of the party leadership. Unfortunately, the party leadership turned its back on one of its most important promises in the 1994 campaign; that it would defend property rights. So Helen became part of a vocal minority in the freshman class and stuck to her guns.

Helen Chenoweth quickly became a sought-after spokesman for property rights advocates who were drowning in a sea of regulations. She spread the word on the plight of the victims of the environmental assault on Americans across the nation. She not only appeared on radio and television, but, more importantly, took the message directly to the floor of the House of Representatives. She grilled the greens about their policies during committee hearings and she showed their hypocrisy to the American public.

In 1996 one of the most celebrated property rights cases in the nation was in grave danger of being lost until Helen Chenoweth used the power of her office to help turn the tide. Wayne Hage, a rancher in Nevada had been fighting an effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that was determined to take his land. For almost a decade Hage had held the Service at bay while he awaited the results of a suit he had filed in federal court to determine if they could take his land.

To pay for the fight and keep up the mortgage on the ranch, Hage had sold off every asset possible. Now, just months before the court was to decide, nothing was left. Suddenly the mortgage holder, CIGNA Corporation, announced it was going to sell Hage’s property at auction. Such action would have served to end Hage’s ten year fight and strike a crippling blow to the property rights movement.

That’s when it was discovered that CIGNA Corporation had made a contribution to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), the green organization that was working directly with the Fish and Wildlife Service to take Hage’s property. Why was the mortgage lender working in cahoots with the very people who were trying to destroy one of the bank’s own customers?

That’s just what Helen Chenoweth wanted to know. She immediately called a representative of CIGNA to her Capitol Hill office to find out. The representative showed up, full of arrogance, unconcerned that a tiny rancher in Nevada was waging the battle of his life against his company. His attitude changed quickly when Congressman Helen Chenoweth stared directly into his eyes and informed him that she believed CIGNA Corporation may have violated the RICO Act by conspiring with the NWF and the Fish and Wildlife Service to take Wayne Hage’s land. Helen went on to say she intended to call for an immediate Justice Department investigation into the matter.

The CIGNA representative turned “white as a sheet” and all Helen saw was his back as he bolted for the door, not able to run fast enough back to his office and tell his superiors. Helen, in turn, headed for the House floor where she did exactly as she said she would, and called for a federal investigation. Very soon after, the CEO of CIGNA called Wayne Hage to tell him the sale was off.

Helen Chenoweth was re-elected for a second term after being made the number one target for defeat by the greens. Now, before she returns to Congress to continue her role as that long hoped-for champion of property rights, she has just one stop to make – the camp of Freedom’s Heroes.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is President of the American Policy Center and National Grassroots Coordinator for CFACT (Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow) working to help local activists organize into Freedom Pods ( He is also the author of three books, including Now Tell Me I Was Wrong, ERASE, and Sustainable: the WAR on Free Enterprise, Private Property, and Individuals.