Recently Wyoming’s U.S. Sen. John Barrasso called Sen. Chuck Schumer’s state of New York a fiscal cesspool, and then pledged to oppose the use of any taxpayer dollars to subsidize it. This language may provide red meat for hard-right conservatives, but let’s remember that here in Wyoming, we too have some big bills coming up. While poking Democrats in the eye may be good for gaining Twitter followers, it’s bad for our state.
Our coal and natural gas industries are in the tank, and because we failed to plan ahead we have no replacement for those revenue sources. This comes at the same time Wyoming’s state pension plan entered the year underfunded by $2 billion, a deficit likely to expand to $3 billion by year end. We have 99 dams that are rated “high hazard,” a $149 million gap in school capital expenditures and 10% of our bridges are structurally deficient and will need repair or rebuilding. Unless we want to be the next Flint, Michigan, get ready for an estimated $500 million in infrastructure costs over the next 20 years to maintain a safe drinking water supply.
I may be cowboy-minded and self-reliant, but I’m also no dummy. If and when Congress passes an infrastructure bill, and the money is getting passed around, I’d like to have some Democratic friends in the room.
Building meaningful relationships with the other side will only become more critical for Wyoming, because the best guide to how people will vote in 2020 is to look at how they voted in 2018. In 2018, Republicans lost 41 congressional seats, 10 governorships and picked up only one Senate seat. This didn’t happen in ultra-liberal states. In the last two years, voters elected Democratic governors in Louisiana, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Wisconsin. Iowa farmers elected Trump by 10 points in 2016. Two years later they threw up their hands and voted out two of their three Republican U.S. Representatives.
The socialism nightmare we’re being fed by the hard right may be soothing to cable news viewers, but it looks like most of America isn’t buying it. Take a state like Michigan. In 2018, Democrats won two congressional seats and both of Michigan’s U.S. Senators are Democrats. In nearby Pennsylvania, another need-to-win state for Trump, the GOP lost three House seats in the last election. These voters are not Silicon Valley liberals — they are welders, autoworkers and truck drivers. They hunt, attend church, buy-American … and they are voting Democrat.
There’s a certainty the House will remain in Democratic control, and the Senate may also have a Democratic majority. Republicans are certain to lose Senate seats in Colorado and Arizona before having to fend off serious challenges in Montana, North Carolina, Maine and Iowa. Amazingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is now tied with his Democratic challenger in a conservative state which today has more registered Democrats than Republicans.
Previous generations of Wyoming politicians, like Al Simpson and Malcolm Wallop, understood the need for having influence with both parties, and the importance of building strong relationships across the aisle. To them, serving your state was not about scoring points on social media and moving up the political-party food-chain, but instead working with colleagues to pass laws and enact policies that serve our communities.
Wyoming has some rough years ahead. Our ability to get support from Washington will be tied inextricably to the relationships our delegation can build with both political parties. Regardless of how the 2020 elections turn out, for the sake of Wyomingites it’s time to move away from petty partisan fighting and toward statesmanship.