After defeating Teeters, what will Steinmetz do for an encore?
By Kerry Drake
— August 26, 2014
Cheri Steinmetz of Lingle proved in last week’s primary election that a big factor in political success is filing for the right office at the right time.
The insurance agent, rancher and social conservative ran for office once before, losing to incumbent state Sen. Curt Meier in the Senate District 3 Republican primary in 2010. This time, she handily defeated another conservative incumbent Republican, Rep. Matt Teeters, in HD 5. She is unopposed in the general election.
It doesn’t appear Steinmetz did a lot differently four years after her defeat to change the results, other than to raise considerably more money than her opponent. She didn’t change her extremely conservative views: She opposes abortion with no exceptions, is against same-sex marriage and civil unions, and believes the Bible should be taught as an elective class in public schools.
Those positions no doubt mean a lot to the voters in HD 5 — which includes Lingle, Fort Laramie, Yoder and LaGrange — but they’re probably not what got her elected. Her biggest advantage in this year’s primary was that Teeters, the House Education Committee chairman, had made some extremely unpopular moves, and she was the only alternative to him on the ballot.
Teeters co-authored Senate File 104, the “Hill Bill,” which removed most of the powers of Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill to run the Wyoming Department of Education. The measure was speedily approved by the Senate and House and signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead, and Hill spent the rest of 2013 in limbo, kicked out of her office and performing mostly ceremonial duties while the Wyoming Supreme Court considered her lawsuit against Mead and the Legislature.
Hill won the lawsuit, then got shellacked by Mead in the GOP gubernatorial primary. She won’t have a state government position come January, but she and her angry supporters have the satisfaction of knowing Teeters won’t, either. Besides the other architect of SF 104, Sen. Hank Coe, who wasn’t up for re-election, no legislator had a bigger target on his back than Teeters.
On top of that, Teeters wrote the budget footnote that prohibited the Wyoming Board of Education from funding, or even considering, the Next Generation Science Standards. It passed the Legislature largely unnoticed, but once NGSS proponents discovered what happened, it became a lightning rod for discussion about the role of politics in education. Mead refused calls to veto the provision, and after several months of wrangling, the board of education ultimately decided not to adopt any new standards until the legislature removes the restrictions on NGSS.
With her opponent heavily criticized for his role in both high-profile issues, all Steinmetz needed to do to win was express her disagreement with his decisions. She did that without even breaking a sweat, arguing that in SF 104 lawmakers effectively took away the will of the people, who had elected Hill by a landslide in 2010.
Even HD 5 voters who don’t agree with Hill would still probably acknowledge what the legislature did was wrong. Penning an unconstitutional law to get rid of a fellow Republican official isn’t a good way to win support from party members, as Teeters learned the night of the primary.
Taking advantage of Teeters’ misstep in the NGSS debacle didn’t even require Steinmetz to support the standards, which had drawn criticism from conservatives for teaching that climate change is primarily caused by man’s use of fossil fuels (which was why Teeters offered the footnote in the first place). Post-victory, Steinmetz explained to Melodie Edwards of Wyoming Public Media that she also isn’t a fan of the science standards, but her opponent’s action “lacked transparency and was unfair to Wyoming citizens.”
While Steinmetz didn’t have to talk about many issues besides education in her latest campaign, most voters knew they were getting an extremely conservative representative because she had expressed her views on other issues when she ran against Meier.
Education Chairman Teeters, who was a member of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange (ALEC), was no friend of public education, and he won’t be missed. But Wyoming’s moderates and progressives should be concerned about what Steinmetz will do when she takes office next year.
She will likely join the growing coalition of far-right House members who hate everything the federal government does, even if what it does helps their constituents.
Steinmetz believes abortion is murder, as do all of the 25 Wyoming candidates who were endorsed by WyWatch Family Values. Even recognizing that it is a legal medical procedure that should only be used in unusual circumstances gets a candidate automatically rejected by WyWatch. Will Steinmetz sponsor anti-abortion measures aimed at taking away a woman’s right to make her own reproductive choices?
Steinmetz doesn’t support marriage equality — or “special rights,” as she describes — for people based on their sexual orientation, which is in line with the views of many GOP officials. But she also says it’s OK to discriminate against gays and lesbians, as evidenced by her support of this WyWatch question: “Do you support or oppose Wyoming citizens being able to exercise their First Amendment rights by refusing to provide services to same-sex couples due to religious beliefs — such as a baker, photographer or florist refusing to provide services for a same-sex union ceremony?”
One issue Steinmetz has been very vocal about is protecting private property rights. She was a leader in the effort to oppose a pilot project in Goshen and Platte counties created by former Gov. Dave Freudenthal as part of the “Building the Wyoming We Want” program.
The 2011 pilot project, called the High Plains Initiative (HPI), sought to help the two counties prepare for the possible impacts of increased mineral development in the area. It held public meetings and collected input about how communities could meet the challenges of providing services to more people.
To most of us, Freudenthal’s program was a good example of the democratic process at work: Bring people together to reach a consensus about how to solve a particular problem. But to an alarmed Steinmetz and a few other HPI opponents, it was a government takeover in the making.
In a June 29, 2011, letter to the Casper Star-Tribune, Steinmetz claimed HPI is “a threat to freedom and an assault on our individual rights, especially regarding private property and the ability to choose how we use our land. The document … invites SMART Growth, Sustainable Development and United Nations Agenda 21 into our county by creating a false statement of public support for these principles.”
Steinmetz added, “Sustainability invokes government power to enforce activists’ views of environmentalism. It seeks to replace farmers’, ranchers’ and other landowners’ concept of stewardship with government-centric control. It merges environmentalism and socialism by government control of land use, food production, housing, transportation, manufacturing, energy rationing and even health care.”
The “Agenda 21 is out to get us” campaign is a crazy notion crafted to exploit the fears of people about so-called government overreach. HPI and efforts like it are legitimate land use planning efforts to help communities, but opponents like Steinmetz have people foolishly believing the United Nations is going to take over America.
Maybe I’m being paranoid in the opposite direction, but I worry when lawmakers would rather foster conspiracy theories than help Wyoming residents responsibly plan for the future. So even though Steinmetz doesn’t have to campaign any more for a seat in the Wyoming House, I hope she will soon share how she wants to protect us from the conservatives’ phony axis of evil: environmentalism, socialism and government control.
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
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