There are some headlines you might expect to see during the next few weeks judging from the make-up of the Wyoming legislature. Headlines such as “Life-time appointments proposed for legislators who always run unopposed – savings from unnecessary elections diverted to road construction” and “Legislature decides to eliminate middleman-Wyoming Mining Association to replace DEQ and Department of Revenue.”
When our legislature convened, it officially became the most conservative, single-party, legislative body in the country. Nearly 85% are Republicans. But, applied to this tribe, the term is a misnomer. Most aren’t what you may think of as “Republicans.” Most are RINOs.
RINO (Republicans-in-name-only), a slur frequently employed by rightwing Republicans to insult their more moderate colleagues, also provides an explanation why so few are what your father and Barry Goldwater might have recognized as Republicans. Their party splinters into moderate and far-right conservative Republicans. Others are libertarians and more than a few are Theocrats.
In Goldwater’s day, Republicans believed in smaller government. They also believed in personal responsibility, social liberty and freedom of religion. “The conservative movement,” according to the man they called “Mr. Conservative,” was “founded on the simple tenet that people have the right to live life as they please as long as they don't hurt anyone else in the process."
To them, “small government” was smart enough to know that to everything there is a season. Goldwater Republicans understood there’s a time for government to act and a time for government to refrain from acting. “I’m a great believer in the free competitive enterprise system and all that it entails,” Goldwater said. ”I am an even stronger believer in the right of our people to live in a clean and pollution-free environment.”
Government should be small, Goldwater thought, but neither invisible nor irresponsible. If Wyoming’s legislative majority were actually traditional Republicans, you might expect to see headlines like “Legislators seek delay in fracking, pending answers about impact on people’s water supply.” Don’t hold your breath and don’t drink the water in Pavillion.
Most GOP legislators in Wyoming aren’t traditional Republicans. Many are self-described libertarians. David Boaz, of the libertarian leaning CATO Institute says, "Libertarianism is the idea that adults have the right and the responsibility to make important decisions about their own lives. You could say you learn the essence of libertarianism -- which is also the essence of civilization -- in kindergarten: don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, keep your promises.”
If these legislators are actually libertarians, what headlines might you expect to see?
“Conservatives reject big government efforts to control who others may marry” and “Wyoming legislators reject proposals to mandate legislatively-prescribed medical advice to pregnant women.”
Traditional Republicans and libertarians alike believe in state’s rights and fiscal responsibility. If they are true to their dogma, you’d expect to see these headlines. “Fiscal conservatives seize opportunity to save state taxpayers tens-of-millions of dollars under Medicaid expansion” and “Republican majority rejects with Mead’s proposal to turn healthcare over to feds - will create a Wyoming-specific health insurance exchange.” But pure anti-Obama politics may trump dogma.
Theocrats will do the preaching. They are neither Republicans nor libertarians. They ran as Republicans but only represent God, or at least their view of God. They want a god-sized government, big enough to make your personal choices. They didn’t learn as much as libertarians did in Kindergarten. Theocrats run for office for only one reason. They believe God has called them to “hit other people” and “take their stuff,” i.e. civil rights.
They’ll insist on writing their personal religious beliefs about marriage, education, healthcare, contraception, climate change, etc. into law. Theocrats don’t believe in state’s rights either. They want to nullify decisions of legislators from other states if legislators from those states don’t make the “right” choice.
Theocrats will consume valuable time preaching to the committees and on the floor. They’ll make a lot of headlines. We’ll see whether other members of the tribe can prevent them from converting those sermons and headlines into state law.