So what did Democrats get by electing Mead?
— March 18, 2014
Here’s a question for Wyoming Democrats who became Republicans for a day in 2010 so they could vote in the GOP primary: Knowing what you know now, would you do it again?
Would you just hand Matt Mead the Republican nomination for governor, because he seemed to be the most moderate of the seven-person field? Or would you rather have let nature take its course and allow Republicans to pick their own candidate, who likely would have been Rita Meyer?
Because if you thought Mead wouldn’t take the most conservative position he could on any given issue, you were fooled. And yes, I was right there with you, casting my vote for Mead with the belief that if a Democrat had no shot at winning the race, he was the best alternative.
It would be great to have a governor who takes the side of Wyoming citizens over outside energy companies in the controversy over hydraulic fracking, but it won’t be Mead. It would be wonderful to have a governor who doesn’t always treat the federal government as our mortal enemy, since we are constantly feeding at the federal trough, but it won’t be Mead.
The inherent problem with Democrats playing Republican kingmakers is they can’t extract any guarantees their point of view will be heard from the politicians they help elect. The winner is free to act as if they don’t exist.
Most Democrats crossed over to keep the most extreme conservative, former state agriculture director Ron Micheli, out of the governor’s chair. But Micheli would probably have had a tough time defeating Meyer, even if Democrats had stayed home.
Look at the polling of likely Republican voters commissioned by the state’s two largest newspapers in late July 2010, only three weeks before the primary. One had Meyer ahead of Mead by three points; the other also gave her a three-point lead but over Micheli, with Mead five points back.
Mead made a huge push at the end by spending a lot of his own cash, but there’s no doubt Democrats made the difference in the GOP primary. Just ask Micheli backers who are still bitter. The state’s elections office reported nearly 10,000 voters switched their party affiliation in the primary, largely because of widespread interest in the GOP governor’s race.
In the end, Mead topped Meyer by only 703 votes, and he finished 2,678 votes ahead of Micheli. After securing the nomination and miraculously managing to keep his party from splintering, Mead cruised to an easy victory over Democratic State Chairwoman Leslie Peterson, who had such a hard time recruiting a candidate she decided to run.
Any hope of Mead leading an even remotely moderate administration was quickly dashed by his first act as governor, enthusiastically joining the lawsuit other GOP-run states filed against the federal government over the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
Every step of the way, Mead has led the fight against implementing the ACA, to the detriment of Wyoming citizens who would benefit by its access to affordable health insurance. He opposed the state running the mandated health care exchange, so he and legislative leaders decided to let the federal government they despise run it for them. After three years in office, Mead still does not have any idea what should be contained in the elusive “Wyoming solution” to the state’s health care problems he and other Republicans demand.
Mead followed the right-wing playbook and opted out of the Medicaid expansion that was an essential part of the ACA before the Supreme Court gutted that portion of the law. As a result, an estimated 17,600 low-income, childless adults in Wyoming eligible for Medicaid assistance cannot get it. Most are also ineligible for ACA subsidies. In addition to leaving the working poor with no health care options besides the emergency room, Mead blew a chance to save the state $43 million annually and instead – according to the state Department of Health – will allow the state to lose $80 million this year.
Mead’s open embrace of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its far-right agenda is profoundly disturbing, and the clearest sign that if the governor once had even a trace of political moderation, it’s gone now.
He spoke at an ALEC conference last December when the organization was still reeling from the financial effects of its promotion of “stand your ground” laws in more than 20 states. The law was initially used in the defense of a man who fatally shot an unarmed black teen in Florida, and public pressure prompted many of ALEC’s corporate sponsors to drop their support. Mead was one of five GOP leaders – including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – who did their best to save ALEC when it was wounded.
Mead doesn’t need to play to the Tea Party to win re-election in a state as red as Wyoming, but that’s what’s he’s doing. How else can you explain his inability to acknowledge that climate change is man-caused, and his tacit alignment with people who discount science and foolishly say it’s a hoax?
It’s bad enough if that’s actually his personal belief, but of greater concern is the fact he’s letting the climate change deniers make educational policy decisions. He refused calls to veto a footnote Republicans added to the budget that prohibits the Board of Education from even considering, much less adopting, the climate-conscious New Generation Science Standards developed by an arm of the National Academy of Science. He’s afraid they may not “fit Wyoming.”
Having watched Mead campaign in 2010, I could not have imagined him trying so hard four years later to still establish his conservative credentials. He doesn’t need to, because he’s already shown he can win a gubernatorial race without pandering to get votes. It makes me wonder how much of what he tells ALEC crowds he actually believes, and how much is to set up his political future and a possible Senate run. He’ll need a lot of help from conservative donors if he wants to go to Washington.
Could it be that Mead is still a moderate at heart? If he is but chooses not to govern like it, he’ll continue to disappoint the Democrats who helped him win his first primary. In reelections officials have to run on their record, and Mead’s may not reflect his beliefs, but it speaks volumes about who he has become politically.
Mead doesn’t have to prove he’s more conservative than his primary opponents, Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill and Cheyenne rancher Taylor Haynes, because he’s not going to get those votes anyway.
I don’t expect any Democrats to cross over this time to fill in the blank by Mead’s name. While I hate to advance this theory, it would make more sense for Democrats who want an easier candidate to defeat to vote for Hill. But they would be playing with fire – the last time we Democrats jumped into the GOP’s playpen, we wound up with an extremist governor anyway.
This time the result could be Gov. Cindy Hill. How many Democrats want to live with that on their conscience?
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
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