Let’s say you agree with the Wyoming Freedom Caucus on many issues. Let’s say you prefer small government, few regulations and healthy support for religious views in the public sphere.

Even then, you should be worried about the Freedom Caucus’ lack of practical solutions for Wyoming problems. The rest of us, including more traditional conservatives, plus moderates and progressives, should be motivated to keep the caucus from obtaining the relatively few seats it needs to take control of the House.

It sets the stage for a legislative election in 2024 that will pit politicians who want to solve local problems against ideologues who just want power. Voters should elect leaders who will actually govern, not mire the political process in arguments about state government being too big or secessionist crusades to ditch the feds.

The Freedom Caucus has gained power each year by asserting it has both the moral high ground and conservative economic policies for nearly every issue lawmakers face, including taxes, gun rights, education and health care. If there’s a wedge issue that can divide the electorate in its favor, the caucus hammers on it.  

But hold on! Leaders need to do more than repeat a tired anti-tax mantra, while sticking to the futile idea that fossil fuels will make a comeback to provide enough tax revenue to pay for essential services and future needs. That includes a constitutionally mandated quality education for all students.

When ideological differences are so pronounced, as they now are in the Legislature, the ability for compromise and solutions that benefit most residents are greatly diminished.

The Wyoming Republican Party, controlled by a far-right slate of officials, has long made no tax increases or new taxes its top legislative priority. The philosophy has become its fundamental principle, which guarantees any GOP candidate who dares suggest a state personal or corporate income tax will have a primary opponent before even finishing the sentence.

A personal state income tax proposed by Democrats in 2021 would have raised an estimated $337 million a year, enough to wipe out the entire $300 million education shortfall. Low- and middle-income taxpayers would not be impacted, because it would be limited to individuals making more than $200,000 a year.

Now, that’s a practical, should-be populist solution to a massive problem the Legislature has sidestepped. When a state is historically conditioned to believe higher taxes are inherently bad, though, the far right wins every time.

Logic tells us there’s no chance to pass an income tax in a state that has refused to even raise the state’s 2 cents-per-gallon beer tax since Prohibition ended 90 years ago. But if an income tax is shown to be the most effective way to not gut the state government and save Wyoming from financial ruin, ideology should take a back seat to practicality.

One of the most damaging examples of being guided solely by ideology is the state’s decision to reject Medicaid expansion for the past decade. The benefits include providing health insurance to about 19,000 low-income residents over two years, reducing hospitals’ $100 million yearly charity care, adding $1.5 billion to its economic output and nearly 2,000 new jobs.

Even after some of the most conservative opponents changed their minds and now support Medicaid expansion, the Freedom Caucus claims — without evidence — that we can’t trust the feds to honor their commitment to pick up 90% of the tab. 

The caucus’ universal defense of “gun rights” ignores common-sense solutions, and demonstrates how Second Amendment absolutists leave many people vulnerable to shooting injuries or losing their lives, either at others’ hands or their own.

Pro-gun stances are so prevalent in the Legislature, even a non-Freedom Caucus member like Senate President Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) claims many people won’t rest until gun ownership is completely eliminated.

“The path they take is toward disarming our population. That’s what it really does long term,” Driskill told the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. “I don’t care if it’s registering guns, putting gun locks on — they will not quit.”

At Gov. Mark Gordon’s second Mental Health Summit in Casper, Driskill bemoaned that the Legislature created a Suicide Prevention Trust Fund but refused to put any money in it. The bill would have allocated $46 million to permanently operate two 24/7, “988” suicide call centers in Wyoming.

Wyoming has the nation’s highest suicide rate per capita. Driskill asked anyone who has a solution to contact him, especially to improve access to mental health services. That’s commendable.

But Driskill balked at any solution that includes gun control. He admitted the number of suicides might drop if there are fewer guns, but insisted people who want to kill themselves will use other methods, like car wrecks.

“Because the root of suicide isn’t the gun, that’s the tool they use,” he maintained.

It’s not the gun? Come on. That’s an argument advanced by many legislators, but it ignores that Wyoming leads the nation in the number of suicide deaths by gun. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows 86% of all gun deaths are suicides in Wyoming, while 10% are homicides.

Gun control advocates recommend several policies the Equality State should enact, including ones with strong support even among NRA members, like implementing universal background checks for all firearm purchases. Others include allowing law enforcement to issue extreme risk protection orders, and family members to petition a court to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns.

Dr. Emmy Betz, co-founder of the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition, recently told PBS News Hour that nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt don’t go on to kill themselves later. Because firearms are so lethal, though, “nine in 10 don’t survive that particular method.”

PBS also interviewed a gun shop worker who outlined the danger of firearms in a suicidal situation. “You have got a person under big-time stress, you have got a gun in the same room at the same time,” he said. “That is a recipe for disaster.”

Domestic violence is another huge problem where courts have ruled that Second Amendment rights are not absolute, though they are treated as such in Wyoming.

The Violence Policy Center issues an annual report, “When Men Murder Women.” Last year it ranked Wyoming with the third highest domestic homicide rate in the country. None were killed by strangers; all were wives, common-law wives, ex-wives or girlfriends of the killers. Six of the seven women were shot and killed with guns.

The report noted Wyoming has some of the weakest gun laws in the country, and one of the highest rates of gun ownership. No state permit is required to buy or transfer ownership of a rifle, shotgun or handgun. The state has no laws regulating assault weapons or large capacity magazines.

Domestic violence is five times more likely to escalate to murder when the abuser has access to a firearm. Wyoming law doesn’t authorize, much less require, law enforcement to remove firearms or ammunition at the scene of a domestic violence incident. It should.

Lisa Geller, policy analyst for Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, poignantly described what’s at stake.

“We fail victims and survivors of domestic violence the moment we choose to protect abusers — and their firearms — over the people being abused,” she wrote. “Ensuring that domestic abusers are prohibited from purchasing firearms and ensuring that firearms are actually removed from abusers is critical to saving lives.” 

To solve its problems, Wyoming needs more lawmakers willing to put ideology aside and work toward practical solutions that protect our citizens.

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. Want to know why Wyoming residents don’t think the WY Legislature listens to them:
    EMAIL to Senator Ogden Driskill – President of the Senate:
    As President of the Wyoming Senate, is there a delineated, or implied, or assumed code of ethics regarding a Senator replying to a constituent’s concerns or issues or requests?
    Reply from Senator Driskill:
    There is not. It is up to the individual legislator to decide how to answer- if at all.
    Email to Representative Albert Sommers – Speaker of the House:
    As Speaker of the House of the Wyoming House of Representatives, is there a delineated, or implied, or assumed code of ethics regarding a Representative replying to a constituent’s concerns or issues or requests?
    No reply from Representative Sommers.

    1. You really expect a reply? That seems a little much. I send a lot and get very little and sometimes its name calling. The people can reply in the voting booth.

  2. The “Freedom Caucus” takes their marching orders from Christian Nationalist think tanks in Washington DC. Most have moving into Wyoming to try and dominate it’s politics. They want to control people’s thoughts and lives and take away the Seperation of Church and State. What is next, establishment of a State religion? Sounds a little like Iran or Saudi Arabia… Wyoming Conservatism historically is more Libritarian in nature. “You do your thing, I’ll do mine, just don’t tell me how to do my thing.” These people need to remember that they are “refugees” and not “missionaries”. You’re welcome to come here, just don’t try to change things. Taxes suck, and government is inefficient by nature, but are a necessary evil. Roads, sewer, water, and education, and their maintenance don’t happen for free. There is crumbling infrastructure all over Wyoming and many places are short of water. It is going to cost some major money to address these issues. There is also some big issues related to the high cost of living in the state, forcing working people out, and contributing to a labor shortage. The Wyoming “Taliban” doesn’t have any answers or solutions to any of this. I fail to see how kicking out the feds and eliminating taxes are going to help. By the way Kerry, part of the Wyoming way, is keeping your nose and the government, away from our firearms. No matter what you say, Wyoming is NEVER going to budge on that issue.

  3. Unfortunately, this very astute observation only applies to the next election. Nothing said here will influence the elected fanatics already in the legislature. I hope you say this again closer to next year’s election, because the current trend will drown out anything said more than a year before that election. Thanks for your effort, Drake.

  4. You are so correct. I’m glad my children are grown and living out of state. It sure isn’t the same state I moved to over 40 years ago. So sad and appalling.

  5. Very typical anti-gun rant. Always blame and control the object. When will you folks learn. My firearms have been in my house and loaded most of my life. No one dead or even wounded yet.

      1. Lee Sanders – that is correct. I have never needed to protect my person, my family or property. However as a free citizen if that time ever comes I will certainly use any means available, including a firearm.

    1. “Yet,” is the sad truth in your message. No one wants your gun, or cares that you own any. You have been lied to about that. The guns need to be interdicted from the unstable (as shown by actual legal actions), not from the rest of us.

    2. Everyone thinks they’re a responsible gun owner…… until they’re not.

      Mr. Hodge is correct. Nobody is coming for your guns. When will you “pry the gun from my cold dead fingers” folks learn that? Common sense gun reform is common… except with the gullible “patriots”

  6. pretty sad state of affairs. I will do what I can as a part time resident. This is a tough problem.

  7. It is true that we cannot what the future will hold, with the case in point being the federal provision of funds for healthcare mentioned in this article. However, that has been and can be utilized as a cheap excuse for doing nothing. It might hail on our flowers, green beans, and anything else in my garden, so why bother to plant them?

    Wyoming takes federal money for airports, schools, and many other things. Shouldn’t we shut them all down? After all, that funding might get reduced or eliminated some day, and Wyoming could get stuck with future bills!

    Lest there be any confusion, I am writing in jest. Perhaps the legislature will someday overcome the lack of logic used to oppose the expansion of healthcare.

  8. Once again I feel it necessary to point out that the champions of unrestricted open carry of firearms in the Wyoming Legislature are too cowardly to allow anyone to carry in their meetings. Aren’t these the same people who holler about Congress not passing any law that doesn’t apply to themselves? What are they afraid of, their constituents? As far as taxes, don’t pass any new ones, just make everyone start paying all the ones that are already on the books, eliminate every single tax exemption. Can you hear the wailing and moaning of the largest beneficiaries of those exemptions? The Freedom Caucus is in step with the rest of the Wyoming Republican party in that regard, make everybody but me pay their fair share. Time to eliminate all the socialists programs in Wyoming. Calculated the cost per service (fire, police, snow removal, etc) and send every resident a bill for their share of the total (you could even give them credit for the sales and property tax they paid, they still would end up owing the state).

  9. Thanks, Kerry, for reporting the link between high suicide rates and the prevalence of guns and lack of gun safety laws, like Red Flag laws. Suicide is often an impulsive act. An “Argh. I’ve had it” kind of non- decision..” In Wyoming suicide is considered an Act of Free Will snd there aren’t enough counselors or shrinks to remediate that mindset. .The problem with using a gun, as opposed to, say, an overdose of pills, is that no one survives shooting him or herself especially not with a semi-automatic weapon. When i moved to Wyoming in 1988 the suicide rate was the highest in the nation. Nothing has changed. More and more it seems like a political problem.

  10. Intentionally skewing the suicide rate by using per capita, instead of raw numbers is how Liberals roll. Freedom Caucus is the only hope for the future of Wyoming as we now know it. The property tax issues are the determining factors for the re-election of many so-called Republicans, and they know it. Mr. Crago knows it all too well. His lies have been called out. If any elected representatives believe otherwise, you will be UNELECTED. Other states have better social programs, bye bye.