With just one representative in the lower house of Congress, Wyoming's delegation must punch well above its weight class to gain influence on the national stage.
The stage is set for exactly that to happen. The state’s lone congresswoman, Liz Cheney, was elected to the Republican Party leadership last week -- a major victory for Wyoming’s interests on Capital Hill. Add that to the seniority of longtime Sen. Mike Enzi, and the rapid rise of junior Sen. John Barrasso, and Wyoming suddenly has more influence in Washington than it has enjoyed at any point since the late 1980s.
Cheney’s promotion, however, comes at a bitter time for the Republicans, who two weeks ago lost control of the House of Representatives in a wave election that elevated a fresh class of young, diverse and highly progressive candidates into Congress.
As chair of the Republican Conference – the third-ranking position in party leadership – Cheney will be responsible for coordinating the party’s communications and will have a key role in setting its agenda as the GOP looks toward retaking the House in 2020.
In a telephone interview from Washington on Friday morning, Cheney expressed optimism at that prospect, reasoning that stances expressed by the incoming class of Democratic lawmakers will drive the party too far to the left, creating a backlash among moderate voters. For energy-focused Wyoming in particular, she noted a push from new Democrats to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels; something called for in a “Green New Deal” backed by popular progressive Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, which has caused some early division among the fresh Democratic majority.
This, she said, gives her confidence some swing districts will see what Cheney believes will be “a trainwreck” from Democrats, which will lead to swing voters experiencing a sense of buyer’s remorse, bringing them back to the Republican Party.
“You can’t sugarcoat the fact that the Democrats are now in charge and have the responsibility of putting forward the agenda they campaigned on, which is far more radical than what voters in swing districts were counting on,” she said.
While some issues, she said, are non-negotiables, including the rollback of Obama-era environmental regulations and substantial (but divisive) tax cuts, Cheney said leadership will be willing to review the new agenda being laid out by the Democratic Party and see where agreements could be reached.
However, she expressed a sense that the Democratic agenda presented a direct threat to the vitality of Wyoming.
“I think it’s going to be important to not get in a position where things do stall out, but it’s also clear that the Democrats who got elected to the House have a very different view of most issues than those of us in Wyoming,” she said. “And when you look at their views on big government and on healthcare and abolishing ICE, on not being tough on the border, slashing the defense budget and restoring the heavy hand of the Obama era, those are things we will fight against because those things will be devastating for the nation and for Wyoming.”
The Congressional Western Caucus, which Cheney is a member of, largely survived intact after this year’s “blue wave,” leaving an influential bloc of Republicans in office to advance issues concerning the West. However, with Democrats controlling the House, it should be interesting to see if any proposals put forward by that committee from its policy slate – which includes reforming the Endangered Species Act and increasing local control on federal land decisions – achieve any traction this session.
Wyoming goes to Washington: Though the weeks following the midterm elections are popularly referred to as the “lame-duck period” in Congress, Barrasso’s Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works -- which he chairs -- convened on Thursday to hear testimony from a number of sources (including Wyoming Game and Fish’s Deputy Director John Kennedy) on the topic of “Examining Funding Needs for Wildlife Conservation, Recovery, and Management.”
In nine pages of written testimony, Kennedy noted 60 to 90 percent of state fish and wildlife agency budgets consist of funds collected from sportsmen, while other areas of the budget are made up by “countless hours of volunteer time and dollars to national, regional and local conservation organizations” and, while there were numerous other funding streams in the federal budget to support conservation efforts, numerous reforms to current laws -- and sustainable funding -- are essential to the missions of state conservation agencies.
“The new and dedicated funding opportunities addressed in this testimony, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, are critical to supplement the revenue brought in by hunting and fishing to give states the resources they need to conserve, recover and manage America’s fish and wildlife,” he wrote.
Eye On Washington
Barrasso was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Conference last week, making him the third-highest ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate. He also helped introduce a bill to address chronic wasting disease in wildlife with Democratic Sens. Doug Jones and Michael Bennett, and made a Fox News appearance to comment on Sen. Jeff Flake’s stance not to vote on confirming justices over a bill to protect the Mueller investigation Flake hopes to pass.
“We are going to get these judges confirmed," said Barrasso.
Enzi didn’t make much noise this past week, but he did attend an unveiling ceremony of the NZ Shoe carousel display at the Rockpile Museum in Gillette.
Cheney voted for the Manage Our Wolves Act, a bill directly impacting Wyoming’s gray wolf populations, which passed the Natural Resources Committee by 16 votes. Cheney also voted for the nomination of an appointee to the Federal Reserve, which also passed.
The Week Ahead
Monday: Joint Committee on Labor meets in Cheyenne.
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Gov. Matt Mead reflects on past successes, challenges facing the next administration: “In his first news conference as governor-elect Wednesday, Wyoming treasurer Mark Gordon outlined his ambitions for the first year of his administration, his immediate plans for the office and how he hopes to set the tone for his agenda in Cheyenne.” (via Trib.com)
Legislators to pitch compromise on archaeological burial sites: “A state senator from a fossil fuel-rich county in eastern Wyoming is introducing a draft of a bill this week he hopes will help balance drilling interests in the Powder River Basin with tribal concerns for the preservation of ancestral burial grounds.” (via Trib.com)
As the election fades, how will Wyoming's new governor grapple with a Legislature in transition?: “In the days before Socrates, the great Greek philosopher Heraclitus once described the essence of being through the lens of a universe in perfect chaos, that “no man ever steps in the same river twice” and, in the universe, the only real constant is change.
Heraclitus, however, had clearly never been to a place like Wyoming, whose politics are defined by long-tenured legislators and a 94 percent incumbency rate for statewide offices and where new laws — and new taxes — are modestly applied, if they’re ever applied at all.” (via Trib.com)
Wyoming third quarter coal production down from last year: “Wyoming coal production sank by more than 4 million tons over late summer in 2018 compared to the same period last year, with one mine responsible for about half of that decrease: Cloud Peak Energy’s Antelope mine, which was slowed by bad weather.” (via Trib.com)
WyoFile goes to North Dakota: WyoFile’s Andrew Graham took a trip out to North Dakota to examine some of the drug treatment efforts being done in their state to help lower the recidivism rate. This is a great examination of alternatives to incarceration in a red state.
One of Wyoming's largest coal firms considers sale, boosts executive pay: “Wyoming’s third largest coal producer, Cloud Peak Energy, may sell, a fracture in Wyoming coal’s newfound stability after years of layoffs and bankruptcies.” (via Trib.com)
Secretary of Defense visits Wyoming: “Joined at the podium by Gov. Matt Mead, Mattis’ comments were brief but to the point, using his time to acknowledge the cooperative spirit between the two nations. Mattis focused primarily on the legacy of the two nations’ shared alliances, rather than the more unsavory parts of the two nations’ relationship.” (via Trib.com)