Once upon a time in the not-too-distant past Wyoming had a group called WyWatch Family Action.
It was indeed for families: the kind in which no one ever had an abortion, loved someone of the same sex or wanted to use the “wrong” bathroom.
Alas, WyWatch closed up shop in 2016 after its leader moved to Nebraska. It left a big hole in Wyoming politics, since no other groups distributed the same kind of colorful candidate surveys every two years. How were we going to find out how office-seekers felt about women’s reproductive rights and non-heterosexual orientation?
But fear not. An unlikely political organization has stepped up to fill that gap in voter services on behalf of social conservatives. It’s the Laramie County Republican Party!
The LC GOP has distributed two surveys — one for gubernatorial candidates and another for would-be legislators, auditors, secretaries of state and superintendents of public education. The surveys will inform voters what candidates find permissible in Wyoming’s bedrooms, places of worship and doctors’ offices. Apparently the county GOP’s leaders believe these to be the appropriate domain of government and the major issues of the day in Wyoming.
One survey for statewide and legislative races asks candidates to list their “biological sex,” a not-too-subtle but likely effective way to identify any transgender candidates without actually using the word. The form also asks for a candidate’s religious background and when the respondent joined the GOP. Maybe there are extra points for party longevity.
The questions all allow space for candidates to provide their own statements about the topic. Two questions are about abortion. The first asks if the candidate “supports a woman’s decision to control their health, including terminating a pregnancy,” or “support the rights of the unborn.”
The questionnaire asks candidates if they have ever given or received money from the National Abortion Rights League or Planned Parenthood, and to name the organizations they have given to that “support life.”
Another question asks whether marriage should be available to all, regardless of sexual orientation, or if marriage is between one man and one woman. The county party also wants to know if special protections and benefits should be “given to the LGBTQ++ community.”
At least the party is forward-thinking. The “++” must be placeholders for sexual orientation categories to be identified by gays and lesbians in the future. How thoughtful to include them.
The second questionnaire addresses the same issue but is more direct about the answer the party wants. Namely, will candidates, if elected, defend God-fearing citizens from the wanton aggressions of the LGBTQ community?
“I believe that religious organizations, individuals and businesses should be coerced into supporting the demands of the LGBTQ++ community.” (My emphasis.)
There are two of what I call Goldilocks questions (are the size of government and the number of state jobs too small, too big or just right?). At least these topics are on point with actual issues officials would need to address if elected.
Candidates are also asked what they would do to grow and diversify Wyoming’s economy and whether public lands in Wyoming “should be returned to the State of Wyoming” or “stay with the federal government.”
“Returned,” huh? I couldn’t find any questions about history literacy.
What the Laramie County GOP wants to know most, though, is contained in the final pair of queries: “Will you support the Republican Party’s Platforms and Resolutions without exception?” If not, which are the exceptions?
Seems loyalty pledges aren’t just for the White House anymore.
WyWatch was different than other political groups because it demanded unwavering loyalty to a strict brand of social conservatism. If one of its questions was answered even partially in opposition to WyWatch’s beliefs, a candidate could not receive its endorsement. The only acceptable answer to one question – “is abortion murder?” – was yes. If a respondent said he or she was willing to make an exception for rape or incest, there was no reason to bother completing the candidate survey — no endorsement for them. Period.
WyWatch was against same-sex marriage and wouldn’t accept the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that legalized the institution nationwide. The group’s leaders always seemed hopeful that they would wake up one day and find it had all been a nightmare that would be corrected by the courts.
But at least WyWatch didn’t lean as far to the right as former Rep. Harlan Edmonds of Cheyenne, who wanted to impose a litmus test on the party’s candidates. He started the Conservative Republicans of Wyoming, which made the Tea Party look like a bunch of socialists. CROW’s sole purpose was to identify “real” Republicans and kick everyone else out of the party.
I’m not suggesting that Laramie County Republicans are as intolerant as WyWatch or CROW, but two recent changes in the county GOP’s approach hint of a disturbing new litmus test. The party’s executive committee, which developed the surveys, according to a source in the party, declared it will only give money to candidates who support the state party’s entire platform.
I’m a progressive Democrat, but believe me I know the Legislature would greatly benefit from the election of more moderate Republicans. A more politically balanced membership would force lawmakers to compromise and consider other people’s opinions.
Is it fair for a party to only give money to candidates who believe 100 percent that life begins at the moment of conception? Over the years I’ve talked to many pro-choice Republicans. The survey only gives them the choice to sacrifice the party’s financial support or not tell the truth.
And why should a candidate be disqualified from party support if he or she doesn’t believe in the party’s stance that marriage is only between a man and a woman? Remember now, if elected, these folks will take vows to uphold the laws of the land. Today those laws include gay marriage.
The second change only affects precinct committeemen and women. If they support a non-Republican candidate they will be stripped of their post, although they can ask to be brought back into the fold after three months, presumably if they beg forgiveness.
This punishment must be on the honor system. Unless a party member spots a committee person knocking on doors or handing money to a non-Republican, how effective could this new rule be to weed out the unfaithful? Maybe all GOP candidates should be asked to wear body cameras to keep them from straying. Or maybe they’ll rely on a network of informants. Isn’t that how thought crimes are prosecuted elsewhere?
The survey results will be published on the county party’s website in early July, which could benefit those Republican voters trying to determine the differences between primary candidates. But voters shouldn’t punish candidates at the polls who use other means to communicate their positions.
After all, it takes character to exercise personal beliefs, to refuse to let the party put words in one’s mouths and to not engage in a conservative sideshow meant to sideline moderate candidates and continue the party’s march to the radical right.
These two surveys beg the question, “Whatever happened to that big tent Republicans were once so proud of?”
It sounds like one wing of the Wyoming party has moved it so far to the right, no one else can find it.