“Statistics are used much like a drunk uses a lamppost: for support, not illumination.” — Vin Scully, legendary Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster
I’ve followed the Wyoming Legislature as a journalist since 1976, and one thing I can tell you with certainty is that its problems are in no way based on its members not being conservative enough.
That notion is kind of like saying the sky isn’t blue enough to suit some people. It’s blue most of the time, but not every single day. When the sky does turn gray, it would be silly to hold one’s breath until there is 100 percent compliance with the ideal shade of blue and foot-stomp when it doesn’t happen.
Yet that’s what the Conservative Republicans of Wyoming (CROW) apparently is holding out for — the day when those pesky moderates and liberals are all replaced with like-minded, far-right state lawmakers who would like nothing better than to move the clock back in Wyoming at least 50 years, to reflect a political philosophy CROW members actually respect.
The notion that the problem with state government is because “true” Republicans aren’t in control of everything is nutty any way you look at it. All five state-elected officials are members of the GOP, which maintains huge majorities in both the House and Senate. Of the 90 lawmakers in the 63rd Wyoming Legislature, 77 of them are Republicans.
CROW seeks to root out Republicans registered “in bad faith”
“The reason that the Wyoming GOP is so ineffectual at accurately representing its own conservative majority is that its ‘tent’ is too big,” asserts CROW brainchild and Chairman Harlan Edmonds on his group’s website (crowyoming.com). “Because the Wyoming Republican Party and its county affiliates seldom vet their candidates or nominees for compatibility with their principles and platforms (which is the primary function of a political party), any liberal can register for office as a Republican in bad faith and receive the full backing of Wyoming GOP resources. And if elected, they can then pursue the destruction of conservative principles from within.”
CROW’s mission is to unmask the underhanded, sinister “Republicans in Name Only” it believes are screwing up the state and keeping laws off the books that coincide with Wyoming’s proper moral values. Based on the bills Edmonds has sponsored as a member of the House these past two years he’s the perfect guy to lead it.
Edmonds moved out of Cheyenne’s House District 12 earlier this year, so he was unable to run for re-election. On the bright side (for him, not the rest of us) he will have much more time to devote to his quest to transform the Legislature into a body that reflects the way God intended Wyoming to be governed.
To that end, CROW recently released its first “Legislator Culture War Index” to determine how each state lawmaker voted on about two dozen bills the group claims show conservative principles. I love the name because it’s so Bill O’Reilly-ish. There is a war going on in this country, see, and it’s not just against Christmas. Edmonds has correctly given up on Democrats, who he sees as a lost cause, but he thinks there’s still a chance to win the “culture war” by putting only true conservatives on the ballot.
The chairman steadfastly denies that this new purity test is in fact a purity test. “Contrary to what our adversaries have been saying, CROW is not searching for ideological ‘purity’ from our leaders, but simply truth and accuracy about their beliefs and motivations,” Edmonds writes.
That doesn’t square with another one of Edmonds’ explanations about CROW’s purpose. “It wouldn’t take many additional conservatives elected to the Wyoming government to set in motion a near-complete overthrow and replacement of its liberal leadership elites and appointees with conservative Republicans,” he contends. “RINOs and self-described moderates are typically followers by temperament; they will vote more conservatively as soon as their leaders become more conservative.”
CROW’s Culture War Index breaks down the Legislature’s membership into three groups: conservative, “moderate/squishy” and left liberal. The entire baker’s dozen of Democrats, naturally, are relegated to this third unredeemable group.
The conservative legislators are who you would expect to be on such a list, which grades members on how they voted on bills that gave them an opportunity to wave their personal conservative freak flag. Rated 100 percent conservative are Edmonds and six others in the House: Reps. Scott Clem, Gillette; Marti Halverson, Etna; Allen Jaggi, Lyman; Mark Jennings, Sheridan; Kendell Kroeker, Evansville; and Cheri Steinmetz, Lingle.
Eighteen other House members were also rated conservative. The top-rated senator, coming in at 80 percent, was Larry Hicks of Baggs. The only other senator to make CROW’s coveted conservative title was Curt Meier of LaGrange, at 67 percent.
A real surprise was who CROW deemed as moderates or “squishy” conservatives. There were 19 representatives and 17 senators. Notables among the latter were Sens. Eli Bebout, Riverton; Bruce Burns, Sheridan; Cale Case, Lander; Leland Christensen, Alta; and Charles Scott, Casper.
It’s probably not fun to be tagged as squishy, but then again, that’s the point. If legislators don’t want to be exposed as less than conservative, they can cowboy up and vote the way CROW wants them to.
Meanwhile, 16 legislators who were exposed as “left liberals” on CROW’s bottom third included Sens. James Anderson of Casper; Hank Coe of Cody and Phil Nicholas of Laramie, along with Reps. Rosie Berger of Big Horn and Bob Nicholas of Cheyenne. I always knew there was something suspicious about these people, but I didn’t realize they were left-leaning liberals because they never showed up at the secret meetings.
Seven-term Rep. Berger, who was in line to become the first woman speaker of the House since 1969, was shockingly knocked off in the House District 51 primary by Bo Biteman, who describes himself as a “constitutional conservative who believes in free market capitalism, state’s rights, individual liberty and putting principle over partisan politics.” Berger received only a 17 percent rating from CROW, which could indicate that the group’s ideological insistence on a far-right means test might be getting some traction with voters this year.
What were some of the crimes committed by Republicans banished to the squishy and liberal sides of the room? It varies, but they may have supported Medicaid expansion and opposed anti-abortion bills, attempts to repeal gun-free school zones, refugee resettlement plan accountability or a joint resolution to recognize the importance of the Magna Carta, among other grave mistakes that earned CROW’s rebuke.
On the group’s website Edmonds concludes that one of the main things keeping the Wyoming Legislature from fulfilling its conservative potential and making the state great again is because its GOP leadership in both chambers is too liberal, although the Senate is much further to the left than the House.
How would the soon-to-be former representative fix the system? “The thing most obviously lacking at present is the political will to repudiate ‘big tent’ politics,” Edmonds writes. “Good politics is not the choice of ‘addition rather than subtraction;’ good politics is about persuasion rather than surrender, and the superiority of conversion over compromise. Courageous leadership has the power to foster this — not merely to move voters, but to move them in the right direction.”
Make that the extreme-right direction.
Edmonds’ reticence to comment
I’d like to ask Edmonds more questions about CROW’s all-or-nothing conservative agenda, but he has declined to talk to me throughout his two-year term. At this year’s budget session, after deciding to get a quote from him no matter how difficult it might be, I noticed him walk into the restroom right across from the committee meeting he was scheduled to attend next. I stood by the door of the committee room, knowing that he would have to pass me to gain entrance. I hoped I wouldn’t have to tackle him. As he made a beeline to the room I stopped him and asked Edmonds if he would talk to me when the meeting was over.
He considered the request for about 10 seconds before telling me, “I really don’t know if I have anything I want to say.” I inquired how long it might take for him to decide if he did have anything to say, and if he did, would he say it to me? Edmonds told me to call him the next day, and I dutifully phoned and left a message that I knew would never be answered.
If I could I’d ask him if he really thinks the state would be better off if everyone held his exact Christian values and beliefs that the biggest threat to Wyoming’s well-being is the federal government, and that its second biggest threat is that more liberals and RINOs might get elected. But after reviewing the Legislators Culture War Index, I know that Vin Scully was undeniably right as far as Edmonds’ statistics go. They are meant to back up his rigid point of view, not shine any truth on how our politicians might compromise to pass laws in the best interests of everyone.