Wyoming’s two most powerful people in Washington had a few thoughts this past week, manning the cannons in a war of words that raged in both chambers of Congress not over concrete policies, but a pair of resolutions that, if passed, don’t actually do anything.
In the Senate, Sen. John Barrasso has been hard at work adamantly opposing a resolution passed by the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives called the Green New Deal, a slate of policy recommendations to radically fight climate change that, while bold, do not cause any money to be expended or laws to be changed.
Despite this, Barrasso has been sounding the alarm on the resolution’s goals, which constitutes a laundry list of progressive policy goals including universal healthcare, anti-monopoly provisions, fair wages and — in what Barrasso has been most vocal on — achieving net-zero carbon emissions through massive public investments in wind and solar production, public transit and green infrastructure.
The senator wrote an op-ed opposing the deal in USA Today earlier this week. After Sen. Chuck Schumer, a onetime skeptic of the deal, asked whether Republicans not only believed in human-caused climate change but also had a solution to combat it, Barrasso fired back. The senator — who several years ago claimed the role human activity plays in climate change “is not known” and supported a former coal lobbyist’s nomination to run the Environmental Protection Agency — said he now believes the climate is changing and that only Republicans have presented answers to fixing it.
He then pointed to a Dec. 18 opinion piece he had published in the New York Times called “Cut Carbon Through Innovation, Not Regulation,” which called for changes like increased reliance on technologies like nuclear energy to reduce carbon emissions.
“The question is: Do we believe the climate is changing? Do humans have an impact? The answer is yes to both,” Barrasso said. “As a matter of fact I wrote, ‘Climate is changing and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it.’ Right here in New York Times on December 18.
“The United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuel, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come,” he added. “And we need to also rely on innovation. Not new taxes, not punishing global agreements. That’s the ultimate solution.”
Barrasso, however, has supported a vote on the measure before the 2020 presidential election, telling The Hill that it’s important “to get people on record as to how much they really want to take this country in a hard left direction.”
Meanwhile in the House, Rep. Liz Cheney has been embroiled in a partisan spat over a resolution put forth in the House generally condemning hate toward minorities, as well as both the Jewish and Muslim communities — a resolution released after comments made by Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar regarding Israel that some have argued play into anti-Semitic tropes.
The resolution passed by a wide margin. However, Cheney was one of just 23 members of the House to vote against the resolution — which doesn’t actually do anything — calling it a “sham.”
“While I stand wholeheartedly against discrimination outlined in this resolution, the language before the House today did not address the issue that is front and center,” Cheney said in a statement. “Rep. Omar’s comments were wrong and she has proven multiple times that she embodies a vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bigotry. She deserves to be rebuked, by name, and removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee so that there is no mistake about the values and priorities that the House stands for.
“For Democratic leadership to kowtow to their radical members and refuse to offer legislative language that criticizes Rep. Omar’s statements in the strongest possible manner confirms what we already knew: that their party is controlled by far-left extremists who can’t even muster the courage to stand up to blatant anti-Semitism,” she added.
Cheney, the third-ranking member of the House Republican caucus, has led the charge on similar efforts in her own party, calling on the resignation of Iowa Congressman Steve King after he had made comments sympathetic toward white supremacy in January.
King, who was stripped of all his committee assignments in the House shortly after, is still in Congress.
In CST interview, Jillian Balow gives open-ended answer to future plans for higher office: As Sen. Mike Enzi comes up for re-election in 2020, rumors that the longtime Senator might retire have created a grinding rumor mill behind the scenes of Wyoming politics. While Enzi, in recent interviews, has given no answer as to his future plans, many have speculated Cheney could potentially make a bid for the seat, possibly opening up a seat either in Congress or in the U.S. Senate for a Wyomingite with lofty political aspirations.
In a meeting with reporters at the Star-Tribune offices Wednesday, recently re-elected Superintendent of Public Education Jillian Balow, whose name was floated several years ago for a potential run for governor, was asked what her future plans were.
The answer she gave was as one would expect from a politician who’d just won re-election with more than a year to think before campaign season: non-committal and open-ended.
“I can tell you that I really love serving Wyoming, and obviously I love education, too,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have been re-elected; I love doing this work — I’m just invigorated by it. I think all of us are always looking on to what’s next, and I don’t know what’s next. What I can say right now is we have a lot of work to do in Wyoming for education and that I have a great deal of respect for our delegation in D.C. and really appreciate the work that they’re doing. I don’t want to see any of them go, but we’ll deal with that when we get to it.”
She did, however, weigh in on comments made by Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton, at the close of session about looming cuts to school funding. Noting the Wyoming Legislature’s rejections this year on more than a dozen bills to raise revenues, Balow said there was some middle ground to be found, but ultimately the answers are already on the table.
“One day, the Legislature will be faced with the questions ‘Do we cut more?’ or ‘Do we continue to take out of savings?’ or ‘Do we look at new revenue streams next session?’” said Balow. “I’ll continue to be part of that conversation.”
Star-Tribune education reporter Seth Klamman wrote an article recapping the meeting that appears in the Monday print edition of the Star-Tribune and on Trib.com.
Eye On Washington
Sen. John Barrasso signed onto several notable pieces of legislation this week, including bills to treat certain amounts paid for physical activity and fitness as exempt under the IRS code and to waive coinsurance requirements for colon cancer screening under Medicare. He also co-sponsored a bill to treat tribal schools the same as other public schools under the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.
Sen. Mike Enzi was named as a target by a conservative group founded by the Koch Brothers urging him to support a bill to restrict President Donald Trump’s authority to levy tariffs on foreign countries.
Rep. Liz Cheney cosponsored HR1621, which authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to coordinate permitting processes related to the construction of new surface water storage projects on federal lands.
The Week Ahead
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Former state lawmaker Mike Madden has been writing opinion pieces for WyoFile for some time now and has quickly become a must-read columnist on the state’s finances. I recommend you read his latest column here, as well as an op-ed written by Casper Rep. Jerry Obermueller looking back at the trials and tribulations of this year’s failed corporate income tax, which we published on Trib.com this weekend.
Wyoming Business Council expresses need for more cohesive economic development strategy: Meeting for the first time this year, the Wyoming Business Council’s board of directors on Thursday had a full slate of priorities to attend to. But before all that, the council had even more pressing business on its hands: figuring out what, exactly, its role is in building up Wyoming’s economy. (via Trib.com)
Auditor encourages transparency, says it is not as simple as some believe: State Auditor Kristi Racines said she strongly believes that information on state government spending must be available to the state’s taxpayers. However, it can sometimes take a great deal of work to determine whether information held by the state should be public or private, she said. (via Cowboy State Daily)
Seven storylines to watch in Wyoming’s 2019 interim session: On March 22, the Management Council — the rule-setting body for the state Legislature — will meet in Cheyenne, where it will consider a list of topics those committees wish to visit in the interim. Interviews with more than a half-dozen lawmakers and several meetings revealed a number of themes that might be tackled by the legislature in the coming months. (via Trib.com)
Senate Management Council to rule on Hutchings LGBTQ complaint: Weeks after Cheyenne high school students alleged their state senator made vulgar statements in the halls of the temporary Capitol building, the Senate president said the body’s response will be considered by a subcommittee of leading senators from both parties. (via WyoFile)
Among the more eyebrow-raising stories this past week, the Cody Enterprise reports that the Park County Commissioners voted to reject a two-year, state-funded position that would have provided greater analysis and testing of sexually transmitted diseases in the county.
Wyoming could be facing tough times for highway funding: Unless something changes, Wyoming’s highways could be in a difficult place. The cost of maintaining Wyoming’s most desolate — but necessary — thoroughfares does not come cheaply. Meanwhile, sources to garner funding for those projects have been elusive. (via Trib.com)
Traffic mileage in Teton County soars: Teton County traffic has surpassed the community goal for 2035, according to a new report from the town and county. Vehicles traveled more than 592 million miles in Teton County in 2017, compared to the goal to keep traffic levels below 560 million annual vehicle miles traveled for 2035. The report shows annual vehicle miles traveled were up from 523 million in 2016, and from 483 million in 2012 when the Comprehensive Plan was adopted. (via The Jackson Hole News And Guide)
Taco John’s celebrates 50 years of business: Owners of a Cheyenne-based fast-food restaurant chain are celebrating 50 years of offering their trademark “West-Mex”-style food this month. During those five decades, Taco John’s has expanded to more than half the country. But the company’s current leader says its Wyoming roots remain strong. (via the Wyoming Tribune Eagle)
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