Wyoming Democrats have insisted for years that the political pendulum is bound to swing their way after decades of Republican dominance.
I’d like to think it’s inevitable, too. However, I’ve made some rough calculations, and a person would have better odds of winning Powerball, being struck by lightning twice and hitting three straight holes-in-one — all on the same day — than Dems pulling off an Equality State miracle anytime soon.
I wish I could be more optimistic about the party’s chances, since I’ve been a member for nearly a half-century. But I’m not going to tell you the Democrats’ glass is half full when the bottom is barely wet.
Here’s the stark history:
There was one golden year when Democrats held the state’s three congressional seats, all five statewide offices and majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. That was 1936, when Franklin D. Roosevelt and his popular New Deal won all states except Vermont and Maine.
The party has been on a downhill slide ever since. Wyoming hasn’t had a Democrat in Congress since Rep. Teno Roncalio retired in 1978. The last time we held a majority of statewide elected offices was 1989.
And come Jan. 10, when newly elected lawmakers are sworn in, there will be 57 Republicans and only five Democrats in the House. The totals are even worse in the Senate, with the GOP outnumbering Democrats 29-2. With the party holding just 7.5% of legislative seats, Wyoming has the lowest percentage of Democratic lawmakers in the nation.
Though some Wyoming Democrats describe this as their political “rock bottom,” it’s actually been worse. The party only held four legislative seats in 1900 and 1920.
Why the party has fallen so out of favor is a topic for another column, but part of it is the GOP’s skilled ability to exploit fear to convince voters that Democrats don’t have their best interest in mind. But the truth is Democrats put people first, and here’s how:
For starters, Democrats work on behalf of the middle- and lower-income classes, not giving tax breaks to the extremely wealthy.
Democrats believe lawmakers must follow the state constitution’s mandate to provide a high-quality, equitable education for every student, and not look for fiscal escape routes to back away from obligations.
Democrats stand for reproductive freedom and against government overreach into private medical decisions.
Health care is a basic human right. Wyoming’s dems have fought for years to expand Medicaid and insure thousands of low-income workers whose employers can’t afford — or simply refuse — to provide insurance.
Another Democratic stance is to protect human and environmental health. Along those lines, Wyoming must reduce carbon emissions, promote renewable energy resources like wind and solar and stop acting like the fossil fuel industry’s profits are more important than the people of this state.
Democrats protect Social Security and Medicare because they are programs residents have paid into their entire working lives, not federal programs Congress can seize to balance their budgets.
The modern Democratic Party consistently supports protecting social programs that keep people from falling through the cracks — from food security to maternal health to consumer protections to workplace safety, criminal justice reform, racial equality and environmental protections. That’s a sweeping agenda Democrats should be extremely proud to back.
Unfortunately, as part of its winning strategy, the GOP does a better job spinning cultural wedge issues, perpetuated on a grand scale by former President Donald Trump. Trump and his minions want voters to believe the greatest threats to families are teaching “critical race theory” and allowing transgender females to compete in girls’ sports.
Trump’s “America First!” and “Make America Great Again” slogans helped him capture 70% of Wyoming’s presidential vote in 2020, and his support shows no signs of abating here. Within Wyoming’s 98,000 square miles, he’s by far the state’s most popular yet polarizing political figure.
Wyoming GOP members, even when they are fighting amongst themselves, trot out their mess of a playbook every election and somehow make it work. It doesn’t even matter that the GOP has only one statewide employee compared to the Democrats’ six, and Wyoming Dems have much more money in the bank. Part of the strategy is focusing on national issues.
Republican leaders pretend every Democratic candidate is plotting to take away all guns — a far-fetched threat that drives up weapons sales and adds to manufacturers’ fortunes while the number of mass shootings skyrocket in our schools, grocery stores, churches and bars. The public no longer feels safe.
Somehow the Republicans have managed to convince the voting public that a) they should be mad as hell about the state of affairs in Cheyenne, and b) that the only solution is to elect more Republicans, i.e. members of the only party that could plausibly be credited with the state of affairs in Cheyenne. I hate to admit it, but you have to admire the rhetorical sleight of hand.
The only healthcare access “solution” offered by the GOP is repealing the Affordable Care Act, which it fortunately has never been able to do despite at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb “Obamacare” since 2010. How on Earth is this a winning position when it always fails?
Let’s never forget the voluminous evidence gathered by the U.S. House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump convinced Republicans to buy the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen by Democrats. He incited a deadly insurrection and helped convince millions their votes no longer matter.
Unbelievably, many in Wyoming view Trump as head of a patriotic, law-and-order party whose supporters injured about 140 Capitol police officers who had sworn to uphold the peace at our nation’s majestic symbol of democracy.
As of Dec. 1, the Wyoming Republican Party had 197,000 more registered voters than Democrats. That’s a disaster for the state, which benefits more from two healthy parties providing voters with choices, including working together to solve societal problems.
Democrats only elected legislators in two of the state’s 23 counties, Albany and Teton. Democrats didn’t throw in the towel — they competed in 17 legislative contests previously won by Republicans — but lost every one.
There’s nothing shameful about losing an election, especially if you know your party has great ideas worth fighting for, but we mustn’t sacrifice our values. Some within Wyoming’s Democratic party suggest that to win we should either act more like Republicans, or our candidates must be more moderate because MAGA Wyomingites won’t elect “extreme” Democrats.
I don’t pretend to know what the answer is to the Wyoming Democratic Party’s struggles at the ballot box. But we can’t lose sight of who we are or pretend we’re someone else, because there must be enough of us left to make a difference in our state’s future whether we’re in office or not. The sooner we reaffirm what’s at stake for the greater good, the sooner we’ll have a realistic chance to win at least a few more contests.