For decades, Ken Medenbach has been driven by his belief that the federal government cannot own land.
It’s a notion that’s gotten him arrested repeatedly when he built homes on government property. In 2016, it led Medenbach to Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which he and others occupied for more than a month.
But today, with the federal government still controlling vast amounts of property in Oregon, Medenbach has another idea: He’s running for Congress.
On Nov. 21, he became the fourth Republican candidate vying to replace U.S. Rep. Greg Walden in the House of Representatives.
“It’s a spiritual thing,” Medenbach, 66, told OPB. “It just seems like my natural next step …. I can go through Congress instead of going through the courts.”
A Klamath County resident, Medenbach makes his living carving chainsaw sculptures and building cabins and furniture. But he’s best known for standoffs dating back to the ‘90s over federal property rights.
For instance, Medenbach was convicted in 2016 of illegal camping in Josephine County, where he constructed a cabin on U.S. Bureau of Land Management property in 2015.
He had better luck when he joined the occupation of an Eastern Oregon wildlife refuge led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy in early 2016. Partway through the occupation, federal agents arrested Medenbach at a Safeway, which he’d driven to in a government-owned pickup truck.
The arrest got national press — and spurred mockery in some corners — but Medenbach had the last laugh. A federal jury later acquitted him and six others of all charges stemming from the occupation.
Medenbach thinks the controversy helps his chances of winning Oregon’s only reliably Republican congressional district, which spans more than two-thirds of the state.
“The people who live in Eastern and Central Oregon, most of them probably heard of me through the Malheur thing, and they probably know where I stand,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of them agreed with what Ammon Bundy brought up on Malheur. I’m hoping to cash in on those.”
Medenbach, who says he’s running his campaign on a shoestring budget, will likely need more than that. Since Walden, the state’s only Republican in Congress, announced his retirement last month, a number of more established names have filed for the seat.
That includes state Sen. Cliff Bentz of Ontario, who represents Eastern Oregon in the Capitol, and former state Sen. Jason Atkinson from Central Point. Both men have signaled they will bring significant resources and organization to their campaigns.
Asked whether he can mount a serious run at such opponents, Medenbach was frank.
“Obviously if I don’t try, I’ll never know,” he said. “If I get it, I’m sure I’m going to be a real pain in the ass.”