Congresswoman Liz Cheney — currently enjoying a 25-point lead in the race for Wyoming’s lone seat in the House of Representatives — arguably has no need to debate anyone.
Yet, this election cycle she has done so, appearing for a forum-style debate in Gillette back in August — her first since running for election in 2016 — and again, for a Tuesday night debate in Riverton.
Sharing the stage with her were three other candidates, a roster including Democrat and natural resources consultant Greg Hunter, Libertarian and Riverton truck driver Richard Brubaker and a Constitution Party candidate in Daniel Clyde Cummings of Casper. Each of them offered a fresh take and a unique way of looking at the issues presented to them by the moderators. But as the night went on, one difference set one candidate apart from the others: Cheney had actually helped pass legislation.
The narrative was set from the opening statements. Where both third-party candidates essentially laid out the tenets of their party’s platform — less government, less spending — and Hunter decried the influence of special interests in American elections, Cheney began her evening by rolling out the talking points often trumpeted by party leadership and the Trump Administration: rolled back regulations, low unemployment and high economic growth.
In an evening marbled with questions that touched on numerous issues important to Wyoming voters — federal lands, water rights, economic diversification — Cheney was often able to point to something she had specifically done on the issue. When asked about the return of wilderness study areas to the control of locals, Cheney pointed to a bill she had introduced intended to improve access to those lands, though one critics called “a top-down solution” in a Wyoming Public Media story back in March.
On the recent, controversial relisting of the grizzly bear to endangered species protections, while her chief opponent — Hunter — spoke to the ethos that wild animals don’t recognize state borders and that protections should be administered federally, Cheney spoke of a bill she had introduced demanding their delisting and called for a fix to an Endangered Species Act she said was “badly in need of reform” and failed to actually help species recover. (Note: While only a small percentage of species — about 1 percent — actually recover their populations to the point where they achieve delisting, the success rate in other areas has been significant.)
“It’s going to be crucial to prevent the mass listing of species and get back to a place where we recover species,” said Cheney. “Something is clearly broken if we’re not able to do that.”
From an on-time military budget in the upcoming defense spending bill (something she was at the president’s side for the signing of) to being part of a large coalition of Republicans to cut taxes and repeal pieces of the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — when the Senate would not, Cheney had plenty of material to work with. But legislation she proposed or helped pass didn’t account for all the other differences that separate her from the other candidates, particularly Hunter.
That division was made clear beginning with a question on addressing the polarization of the country between conservatives and liberals (though both Cummings and Brubaker often argued throughout the night both groups were essentially for the same thing: larger government and more spending). Cheney spoke to the environment and “venom” she’d seen in Washington over the past several years, at one point citing the shooting of Republican Congressman Steve Scalise on a softball field. She was followed by Hunter who, while saying he would be willing to work across the aisle, blamed President Trump and “the other party.”
While the two third-party candidates provided new philosophical backdrops to each issue raised — Brubaker often saying the markets and the states should have more free rein and Cummings, advocating for a strict interpretation of the Constitution that would include the defunding of the Department of Education and the release of all federal land — Cheney and Hunter were opposites on several key issues.
Where health care was concerned, Cheney advocated for more options that could only come with increased competition; Hunter noted that while Republicans are now changing their original course and standing in favor of ensuring protections for pre-existing conditions, it was Democrats who started the conversation. On a question about addressing the issue of sexual assault on tribal lands — crimes that have been notoriously difficult to prosecute — Cheney discussed her concerns with reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (a bill cosponsored exclusively by Democrats), which she said as-written may have several constitutional issues and may not make prosecution of those crimes any easier. Hunter, meanwhile, said the government needs to address the source of those concerns by increasing access to education around consent.
The two major-party candidates differed greatly on climate change. While Hunter noted there was a scientific consensus on climate change and, without providing details, said we need to start with our infrastructure to begin to address those changes, Cheney said that the international scientific community marginalizes climate scientists with a differing view on climate change than those recognized by the UN — said most of the Paris Climate accord was meant to kill fossil fuel industries.
Other topics the two disagreed on included:
- the gender wage gap, which Hunter said could be addressed in part by paying teachers more; Cheney said the issue was exaggerated by Democrats for political gain;
- environmentalism, with Cheney explaining that it’s important to protect what we have, but that the Obama administration enabled radical views on the environment to become law; Hunter disagreed, and said we need regulations so corporations don’t “poison people;”
- immigration, as Cheney maintained her hardline stance on immigration, including building a border wall; Hunter agreed America needs to secure its borders, but that a wall was unnecessary.
Note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information about Congresswoman Liz Cheney’s bill related to grizzly bears. The bill calls for their delisting not relisting.