So what did Democrats get by electing Mead?

— March 18, 2014

Kerry Drake

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.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead

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.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. the consensus of environgelic scientology vs. the consensus of evangelic economics. Which countries with religious based polarized politics and biased media have successful middle class economies. pick none

  2. Sure, it’s the GOP.

    – 47 million people on foodstamps
    – 99 weeks of unemployment plus a proposed 20 more weeks, yet jobs go unfilled because of the lack of unqualified/uneducated candidates
    – increase in minimum wage for the unskilled, uneducated, yet again reducing the incentive to obtain skills necessary to participate in the economy
    – Obama phones
    – 47% of this country does not pay income taxes, so let’s take more from those that a) get an education, b) get the skills to participate in the economy, c) work their collective rear ends off to build something to be taken away by the government.
    – States with the highest taxes have the highest number of liberals on the dole, Illinois, the Peoples Republic of California, the entire Northeast, but we need to infiltrate the other conservative enclaves.
    – entitlement, entitlement, entitlement…..
    – Community organizer, the liberal leader of the “free” world

    The entire liberal agenda is based on two simple principles, 1) get as many people on the dole as you can so you can tell them how hard you are working to improve their situation but you never do, just provide them more government handouts and 2) attack the people not on the dole, those working hard to improve their community, their station in life – ie, drag them down with the rest of the liberals as noted in item 1.

    The gravy train swings both ways Patrick – you keep drinking that democratic koolaid…….

  3. The Republican party is in disarray, with an aging and wealthy establishment pitted against an amateurish tea party (or CROWS, as you wish). This is the conflict that gave us Matt Mead and Cindy Hill. The dynamic that turned Wyoming’s Dems into a party incapable of producing viable candidates is distinct but is obviously part of the problem.

    The older, wealthier Republican establishment is awfully fond of their entitlements, leading the Republicans to become the party of fiscal foolishness. That’s what’s so disappointing about Mead. He denies science and stumps abroad for Big Coal while he allows the state to bleed tens of millions of dollars per year in order to thumb his nose at Obama. Neither measure appears to be working: the price of coal isn’t going up anytime soon and the ACA appears to be gaining popularity, even in Wyoming. Saying the name ‘Charlie Scott’ now brings looks of disbelief rather than respect. Those looks aren’t terribly different than one sees mentioning names like Troy Mader or Lynne Hutchings.

    The GOP is now the party of fiscal irresponsibility and entitlements. Mead can’t dole out the candy fast enough to his political supporters (not selling coal? take over the University!). Meanwhile, the tea party continues to nip at his heels, knocking the state down further into the mud and providing fodder for Wyoming jokes in the national press.

    Mead is the symptom, not the problem.

  4. Mat “ALEC” Mead, living the Koch Bros. agenda, burn that coal, Mead traveling the world trying to sell that crap, visiting Canada to see how best to get at those nasty Tar Sands in our South West, money and power is his agenda,, let us not forget our Texas Senator Barrasso, two peas in a pod, lest we forget, the number one obstructionist in the senate, Enzi, the GOtP figurehead!
    The GOtP in all states have the same agenda, “smaller government”, “bigger business”, and “we the people”, ain’t either!
    Thank You Mr. Kerry D.
    Keep exposing the truth,,

  5. Dewey, I voted for Herschler, Sullivan and Freudenthal – and I would vote for all three again. All three were fine governors, far better than Geringer and Mead. All three did a fine job with the various challenges they faced during their tenures. Did I agree with everything they did? No. Do I disagree with everything Mead does? No. What elevates those three men in my opinion is their leadership skills and what they did to push this state to the next level, not drag it down.

    Where we get lost politically in this country is strictly following “party lines.” The liberals in society have aligned themselves with the Democrats and have shifted well to the left. The conservatives have shifted well to the right to offset the liberal shift farther left and have aligned themselves with the Republicans. The results? Poor leadership. One side can’t talk to the other without being corrupted. We aligned ourselves with a morally corrupt Clinton in 92, almost aligned ourselves with a grandstanding internet creator Al Gore in 2000, but ended up with somebody that should have never been elected in George Bush, which teed up the plate for big shift left with the Entitlement President Mr. Obama. None of these guys have been good leaders. Obama’s inability to get anything done in the last 4 years is a case in point – he has so polarized our government, so corrupted the processes, that nobody is willing to find common ground and propel the country forward.

    You guys keep bashing the Republicans, the other side can bash the Democrats and at the end of the day, nothing will get done. You will keep arguing for more government handouts like a good Democrat, Republicans can keep arguing again more entitlements.

    I on the other hand will continue to align myself with the values of being a good citizen, making sure I am being a productive member of society and not expecting government to provide for me and my family. I’ll continue to push for less government intervention, more self sufficiency, less picking of my pocket for the so called less fortunate, those who have become dependent on the government to provide for them. This country provides nothing but opportunity for those willing to take the challenge. Unfortunately, all this country does anymore is provide the entitlement to more and more people succumbing to the government dole.

    I could go on, but I have work to do, money to earn, taxes to pay so the 47% can collect their welfare checks next month.

  6. Tell me, RBD, what is your considered opinion on those Wyoming Democratic Governors Sullivan and Freudenthal who were elected with great help of Republicans ?

    Were their policies and actions as whackadoodle to you as you seem to think Obama’s are ?

  7. Works both ways folks – how many Republican’s crossed the aisle and voted for the Obama disaster in 2008 and 2012? Look at the price we are paying at the National level for the huge expansion of the entitlement society with a liberal President…….. the door swings both ways folks.

    While I am not a big fan of many of the positions Governor Mead has taken on some issues as of late – the science position is laughable – it is still better than the whackadoodle Obama administration.

    Still waiting for the “pick up the phone and stroke of the pen” Mr. Drake……..

  8. You mean the times past when climate change was natural, health care and education was affordable, middle class jobs supported a family. That history?
    When presidents where more than just grasshoppers in the special interest hen house of big money politics and media.

  9. Historically, there have been times in the past when then-dominate parties have gone too far and the electorate swung the other way. Not sure how crazy the GOP would have to get, for that to happen. Maybe the whackadoodles need to take over, pass bizzaro legislation, to convince voters to make a significant change. Then again, the process could be very painful.

  10. the benefits of unaffordable health care vs. the benefits of unaffordable energy seems to sum up the highlights of the next election. pick one.

  11. Mead is a front man for the T party. I have high-achieving college kids, know quite a few others. They are fleeing this state as fast as they can, and the ugly conservative politics certainly plays a part.

  12. ” Anybody who thinks he can teach you anything about Wyoming politics and government is a fool …”

    – Professor John T. Hinckley, opening remarks of his Wyoming Politics and Government course at Northwest College, Powell WY , September 1970

    Hinckley was no fool. But he was completely correct.

  13. I think the question is whether Wyoming would have been better off with Micheli.

    It’s clear that Mead took a swerve to the right. His recent public statements denying the science behind climate change put him squarely in the tin-foil-hat wearing camp. His refusal to accept federally funded healthcare for uninsured Wyoming families makes him seem irrational and foolish. While the state is first in per-capita carbon emissions, the state’s DEQ is demanding that the EPA back off from its regulations. These actions can only enrage the Democrats who voted for him.

    But Mead’s actions seem studied and measured compared to many other elected officials in Wyoming. Think of Troy Mader, Lynn Hutchings, Matt Teeters or any of the others whose words and actions have ended up in the national press, making Wyoming the object of ridicule.

    While there is no doubt that Mead is at best distasteful to Democrats, would we have been better off with Micheli?

  14. If you were at the Natrona County Democratic convention you heard our guest Bruce Palmer remind us to “vote straight ticket.” That equates to “stay the heck out of the Republicans party.” If you vote for Rs in primary or general you are voting against your party.
    Worst still, Micheli is on the state board of education! So “moderates” like Mead give spoils to their primary buds after they win. So again, we all lose.