CHEYENNE — I am amused whenever I see the the name of Sen. Eli Bebout of Riverton on a conservative far-right list of Republicans who are identified as closeted Democrats.
If you agree with the thinking behind the most recent list of RINOS (Republicans in name only) published by WyoRino.com, then about three-fourths of the Wyoming Legislature is made up of rogue Democrats — liberals.
The impostors have to go of course. Which is a shame considering the list includes past, current and future leaders and other talents.
Whether you agree with him or not, Eli Bebout is a superb legislator who broke records by serving as both House Speaker and Senate President.
He may have stirred suspicions among the radicals of the GOP by his origins as a Democrat. He switched parties years ago while serving in the House.
As a new member of the majority Republican Party, he was able to rise through the leadership ranks in both houses.
The WyoRino ratings are based on ten bills that were before the Legislature last winter. A score of less than 70 percent signaled failure.
WyoRINO.com is an index that is based on the platform and resolutions of the Wyoming Republican Party according to its web page. It’s another one of those spooky groups that are working anonymously.
The Wyoming GOP late last year issued a disclaimer of any association with groups like this one.
One bill on the list was the increase in the lodging tax, which passed.
Bebout was a yes vote, which earned him a demerit on the anti-RINO’s scorecard.
He also voted for Senate File 20, dealing with the election code, a bill opposed by the GOP group. He did vote for a key amendment favored by the group. It would have required citizens voting by mail to provide voter identification. The amendment failed.
But he went on to vote for the bill for other reasons.
The choice of issues selected by the anti-RINO group has a big impact on the results, Bebout wrote in an email.
“As you know, I have made thousands of votes over my legislative career. A vast super majority comply with the Republican platforms and resolutions. Some do not.
“This is only for one Senator,” he added. “Have to ask the question. With only a few issues that are selected and without knowing the debate and discussion about the amendments, is the characterization accurate?”
The answer of course is no. Ten selective votes do not provide a full profile of a lawmaker.
This is particularly true regarding budget amendments. There are a couple of those on the GOP scoreboard.
There may be a complex backstory behind those amendments which cannot be summed up by a simple yes or no vote.
Bebout was faulted for voting against an amendment to cut the budget for the Wyoming Business Council by about $40 million.
Only six senators voted for the deep cuts while 24 voted no, including Bebout.
His rationale was simple.
That amendment, he said, went too far in reducing the council’s budget.
“Ultimately, I have to be held accountable to my constituents. I have been proud of that representation and I believe it is reflected in the support from my district.”
I’ve been trying to pinpoint when the anti-RINO effort began in earnest.
I finally settled on 2012 when former Cheyenne legislator Harlan Edmonds introduced us to a new political action committee, CROW, for Conservative Republicans of Wyoming. Although Wyoming has been treated to a variety of new parties and political action committees over the years, CROW was different.
As University of Wyoming political science professor John King said at the time, CROW was interesting because it was clearly an organized effort to shape the Wyoming Republican Party.
At about the same time, the tea party movement became active here and its members advocated mostly for reduced government and no tax increases.
But by 2019, according to published accounts, the conservative wing of the Republican Party had basically dumped the tea party moniker.
CROW disappeared. So did another conservative entity — the County Party.
Going back further in Wyoming history, the Cold War-era John Birch Society, an anti-communist small government organization, was active in Wyoming, particularly in Park County.
A favorite target was the late U.S. Sen. Gale McGee, a Democratic moderate.
As one extremist group vanishes another takes its place.
So it goes.
Joan Barron is a former longtime capitol bureau reporter. Contact her at 307-632-2534 or email@example.com.
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