In 1921 there was one Democrat in the Wyoming State House of Representatives, Thurman Arnold of Laramie. On opening day of the session, as Republicans returned from their caucus, Arnold announced the Democrats had caucused “in a phone booth.” He announced the results, “I have known Thurman Arnold all my life. I would trust him as far as I trust myself.” He then put his own name in consideration for speaker of the house. He lost.
In 1932, the pendulum swung. Democrats held a solid majority. In 1976 Democrats were two votes short of a majority with a 15-15 tie in the senate. But as they say about those of us born in Leadville, Colorado; it’s been downhill ever since.
Today the two-party system in Wyoming is largely within the GOP where there’s a great battle between the far-right and the extremely far-right. In 1976, Teno Roncalio became the last Democrat to win an election to the congress. It’s been 43 years since a Democrat was elected to the US Senate. Republicans hold 85% of all state legislative seats and all five statewide elected offices. It’s been half a century since Wyoming’s electoral votes went to a Democrat.
Why? It begins with the marginalization of organized labor. The long-term GOP strategy was to enact “right-to-work laws. Before Reagan busted the unions, they supported Democratic candidates with money and shoe leather. They registered voters and turned them out on election day. Those days are over.
Second was the decision of the US Supreme Court requiring Wyoming to apportion state legislative seats based on population. Nonsense though it was, the high court ruled it was impossible for a legislator who lives in, say, Western Hills to represent voters who live in Indian Hills.
That decision institutionalized a Republican majority in the legislature. Every 10 years the GOP majority gets to gerrymander the lines between legislative districts ensuring a shrinking number of Democrats are elected.
Single member districts make it far less likely that incumbents will have an opponent. Where it used to be legislative candidates ran at large, it now becomes personal. If you run in a district, you are directly challenging a neighbor, maybe even a friend. That doesn’t set well. Most often incumbents run uncontested.
Now we have political theater in which Republicans eat their own. While the mainstream of the party seeks to impeach Cindy Hill, who would never have been elected but for her party label, those even farther right want to elect her governor. A senator who used to have a reputation as a problem-solver in Washington is compelled to become a problem-maker in order to win his primary after 18 years in the senate.
Secretary of State Max Maxfield counted signatures on a petition and found they didn’t total enough to place a proposal on the ballot to repeal the “Hill-bill” the Constitutional Party didn’t like. Enforcing the law as written earned Max a Republican primary opponent.
Meanwhile thousands of Wyoming working families are left uninsured because the righties in the Republican Party have a need to be more anti-Obamacare than pro-people. Members of the state’s congressional delegation vote to dismantle and close down the government, cut food stamps for the working poor, end Medicare as we know it, and Wyoming voters stand around like bobble-head dolls.
Why? Only 56% of all eligible Wyoming voters are registered. Think about that. Forty-four percent of all eligible voters think it isn’t worth their time. Census statistics inform us that most of them are the ones worst impacted by Republican policies, i.e. the elderly, struggling families, the disabled, and those working but not for livable wages.
On the one hand, it’s fun to watch Wyoming Republicans descend into a rightwing freak show. On the other hand they’re hurting a lot of families in the process. Somebody needs to decide that this state is worth more than what the Republicans are providing. A lot rides on whether enough of those 44% will care enough to vote?