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Open Lands

Wyoming: No country for Democrats.

Happy Monday! We’ve got some big news at 307 Politics, a name that has been almost exclusively associated with this newsletter but for which we have much bigger ambitions. By much bigger ambitions, I’m really just talking about a few more ways to access the Star-Tribune’s state-leading political coverage -- but I’m still excited. Starting today, you can follow 307 Politics on Facebook and Twitter. Please do! A few eagle-eyed readers maybe have noticed that around the time this newsletter started last fall, we changed made some changes to the politics section at trib.com. It now includes tabs to access our coverage on education, health and the delegation in Washington, D.C., as well as op-eds related to state politics and Joan Barron's excellent weekly column. We’re still adding features to the page, but you can bookmark trib.com/307politics now to stay up-to-date on all our politics coverage ahead of this year’s legislative session.

Speaking of this year’s session... what do you want to see from our coverage? I’ll be in Cheyenne full time while the Legislature is meeting, and we’ll have other reporters helping to provide coverage. We’re equipped to do some video broadcasting, liveblogging and to send this newsletter out more frequently in addition to publishing regular articles. If there’s anything you think would be helpful to better understand the Legislature or state politics this year, please drop me a line at arno.rosenfeld@trib.com.

Anyway, thanks for your patience with the housekeeping. Now for the news!

What do these political trends mean for Wyoming? Shockingly, nothing good for Dems

Wyomingites are seldom polled on... well, just about anything. We’re a small state, which makes finding a representative sample difficult, and we also don’t have a lot of major universities or media behemoths -- the two typical sources for public opinion surveys.

But every year for the last eight years, Colorado College (Liz Cheney’s alma mater, as it happens) has polled residents as part of its Western States Survey. It focuses on conservation, and I wrote up those results last week, but didn’t much dig into the political trends it identified.

-- At 67 percent of respondents, self-identified Republicans dropped two points this year but are still well above the 60 percent found in 2011. That was also a high-point for Democrats in the state, with 23 percent of voters that year saying they were registered with the party. That number is now down to 19 percent.

-- Those calling themselves “conservative” make up 51 percent of voters in Wyoming, down 5 percent from last year but likewise up a few points from 2011, when the survey began. “Moderate” voters are down to 32 percent of the electorate, a fall from 39 percent in 2014.

-- 76 percent of Wyomingites said they had different values from “most people who live in big cities” and 84 percent said they shared values with “people who live in rural areas and small towns.”

-- Finally, just 18 percent of voters thought “elected officials in Washington, D.C., generally reflect my values” while 59 percent agreed with that statement as it applied to elected officials within Wyoming.

Sidenote: The question of whether Wyomingites count their delegation as part of the Washington establish that doesn’t share their values is answered partially by another recent poll, released by Morning Consult, that shows Wyoming’s Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi as the senators with the fifth- and third-best approval ratings in the nation. Sixty-two percent of Wyoming voters approve of Enzi’s job performance and 61 percent approve of Barrasso’s.

Now, the survey wasn’t really focused on wider political trends. But it does put hard numbers to what most folks here already know: We’re a conservative state and we’re not getting any less conservative.

The alienation apparent in some of the responses, especially the shared values question, speaks to the larger uphill battle Democrats will have clawing their way back to any semblance of power in Wyoming. The party is increasingly associated with the coasts, and if large shares of voters in the state are saying that not only do they have different priorities than residents of large metropolitan areas in California or along the eastern seaboard, but that they have fundamentally different values -- arguably the core of one’s identity -- how Democratic politicians can persuade them to come around is hard to see.

Directly related to this issue is that Wyoming doesn’t have any big cities of its own or any other typical bases of liberal support, like large college student populations or racial minorities, as I've written about before.

Michael Barone, an expert on state-level politics at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, summed up this issue in a recent email:

“Wyoming just seems to be a solidly Republican state these days. Historically, its Democratic strength was concentrated in the southern counties, along the Union Pacific rail line, but the movement of white non-college voters to the Republicans--which was ongoing even before 2016--left Democrats with just about no base, except for the high-end ski resort of Teton County,” Barone wrote.

The 4 percent drop in registered Democrats in Wyoming since 2011 seen in the Colorado College poll may reflect that voting bloc switching their sympathies to the Republican side. It may also point to a recognition that there’s not much point in being a registered Democrat in Wyoming. I haven’t done any reporting on this, though I don’t really understand the point of voting in Democratic primaries in this state outside of perhaps Laramie, Jackson and Cheyenne, given that the winner of the Republican primary is all but guaranteed general election victory in most regions of the state.

One final note: the values gap between Wyomingites and “people who live in big cities” may highlight the challenge that Gov. Matt Mead’s Endow economic diversity initiative is going to face. The underlying principles of Endow is basically that Wyoming needs to increase the size and education level of its workforce and move more toward the “knowledge economy” -- technology companies, sophisticated services, build out the legal field in the state -- all goals that, incidentally, would be almost certain to create more Democrats in the state.

Good luck governor!

Endow gets an assist from the gov.

Speaking of Endow, Mead signed two executive orders last week geared toward economic diversity. The first boosted education attainment goals and the second aimed to increase the state government's use of technology services provided by Wyoming companies.

The educational attainment order lines up with the preliminary recommendations of the Endow Council released late last year. While I wrote about them at the time, I focused on the final goal of the new benchmarks, which called for boosting the percentage of Wyomingites with postsecondary degrees from 75 percent to 82 by 2040. But a source pointed out following that story that the earlier benchmark, set for 2025, was arguably more ambitious. Endow -- and now the State of Wyoming, per Mead’s order -- will seek to see 67 percent of Wyomingites possess a postsecondary degree by 2025, up from the previous state goal of 60 percent.

That is quite ambitious, given that the number currently stands at 45.8 percent.

“I’m asking our education leaders to work together and implement a plan to provide post-secondary opportunities our citizens need and the prepared and skilled employees businesses are looking for,” Mead said in a statement.

Once again, good luck governor!

The importance of decorum in D.C.

During debate over the federal shutdown last weekend Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, had the Senate’s version of the riot act read against him by Barrasso.

Brown railed against the GOP tax reform bill, which he said had been written by “a bunch of tax lawyers” and lobbyists in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina interrupted Brown to ask for the chamber’s presiding officer -- Barrasso, at the time -- to read Rule 19, which requires any member making inappropriate comments to sit down and shut up.

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“If any Senator, in speaking or otherwise, in the opinion of the Presiding Officer transgress the rules of the Senate the Presiding Officer shall . . . call him to order,” Barrasso told Brown, according to Roll Call. He added that “when a Senator shall be called to order he shall take his seat.”

Brown responded: “Does that mean what I said, that Sen. McConnell didn’t have lobbyists in his office writing legislation, is that what Rule 19 means and what the presiding officer is now discussing with the parliamentarian or my friend from North Carolina is alleging?”

Barrasso: “The chair is merely reminding all senators of the rule.”

“(W)ith the coming slate of high-profile and contentious legislation coming down the pike, one might expect more senators to invoke Rule 19,” Roll Call’s Ed Pesce wrote.

Dramatic!

Roundup

REP. CHENEY GOES TO SAUDI -- Wyoming’s lone U.S. House Rep. Liz Cheney was in Saudi Arabia last week as part of a Republican delegation traveling around the region and being led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. Cheney doesn’t appear to have released any public statements about the trip, though Ryan said in a statement that the trip “will focus on regional stability, the campaign against ISIS and terrorism, and Iranian aggression.”

-- It’s a fitting destination for Cheney, who recently co-sponsored a bill to strengthen America’s nuclear deal with Iran, given the Saudis' long standing rivalry with the Iranian regime.

BARRASSO MOVES TO EMPOWER STATES -- Barrasso introduced legislation this month that would bar the Interior Department from enforcing federal rules on fracking on federal land if a state has its own regulations in place.

-- “Wyoming and other states have shown they are well-equipped to responsibly and effectively manage oil and gas development on federal land," Barrasso said.

‘THE MOST DISINGENUOUS’ TWEET EVER? -- Paste Magazine’s Shane Ryan roasted Barrasso for what he called “the most disingenuous political tweet of all time.” The post in question? Barrasso asked Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, on Twitter “if #MedicareForAll is implemented, how many people will lose their current coverage? Answer: EVERYONE with private coverage.” It was a bold question for Barrasso to pose given that the premise of Medicare For All is, indeed, that everyone would receive federally-funded health insurance. Or, as Ryan put it:

-- “That's the point of it! That's the point of Medicare for all! Everyone will have health insurance that is free at point of service! It will be paid for by taxes! There are about 44 million people in this country with no insurance, and 38 million with inadequate insurance, so the net gain will be 82 million people getting better insurance!”

That's all for now, folks. As always, send tips and thoughts to arno.rosenfeld@trib.com, keep up with Star-Tribune political coverage at trib.com/307politics and sign-up for this email newsletter at trib.com/email.

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Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.

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