In four fast years, the Republican Party went 0-3, losing control of the House of Representatives in 2018, then losing both the White House and the Senate in 2020. This political outcome, which I predicted two years ago, isn’t good for Wyoming.
In preparation for the losses, I suggested we consider making friends with the other side. That day has come, and the first of these friendships should begin with U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) making friends with the incoming Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg.
Why “Mayor Pete,” the young former Democratic presidential aspirant?
Under Democratic control of Washington, D.C., the coal industry won’t be thrown any favors, and a whopping 92% of Wyoming’s gas is drilled on public land — where Democratic-imposed environmental policy will have a disproportionately negative impact on our state. From an economic standpoint, this is all bad news. Meanwhile, we can’t count on help from a Republican controlled Senate anytime soon. There will be eight competitive seats up for re-election in 2022, and all of those are trending blue. In each of these key states Donald Trump lost ground to his Democratic opponent between 2016 and 2020, and four of them “flipped” altogether (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona and Georgia) .
While Republicans made impressive gains in the House of Representatives, only one of those gains occurred in a 2022 Senate battleground state (Florida). Two of the next cycle senatorial battlegrounds actually saw Republican losses (North Carolina and Georgia). Which means odds are strong the Senate remains in Democratic control throughout Biden’s first term.
For Wyoming, that means not only are our coal and natural gas industries in for a tough economic time, but we should not expect the Republican cavalry to save us anytime soon.
Nonetheless there are steps we can take, and the first one requires a political friendship between Barrasso and Buttigieg.
Soon-to-be Secretary of Transportation Buttigieg will oversee critical transportation networks with the potential to exert a material long-term impact on our state. Today, nearly 10% of the state’s bridges are deemed structurally deficient and we depend on federal highway aid that amounts to $1.64 for every dollar of state money spent.
Sen. Barrasso’s influence in the Senate is vastly diminished under Democratic control, but as former Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, he showed leadership in infrastructure, introducing America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019, which protects federal spending formulas for states and prioritizes specific projects like the I-25/I-80 interchange in Cheyenne.
As lawmakers debate and amend the legislation in this next Congressional session, the recommendations from Secretary Buttigieg will matter.
But now is not the time to simply fix what is broken. A Democratically controlled Congress and presidency can be a time to build on our state’s future. We have an underutilized legacy highway and rail network, and Democrats love mass transportation. Connecting Wyoming through public transportation to Denver and its airport would open up Cheyenne, Laramie and possibly Casper to those next-generation industries that are reluctant to locate in Wyoming’s hard-to-access towns.
For many companies, given the choice between a congested and overbuilt Ft. Collins versus these attractive Wyoming communities, the decision is easy as long as their needs for access are addressed. The same holds true for the southwest corner of our state, which is only an hour from Salt Lake City International Airport.
We have a history of thinking small while other states act boldly. This could be our time to change that.
But to do so, Wyoming needs to remember that relationships matter, and this is where some of the state’s past leaders — such as Sens. Alan Simpson and Malcolm Wallop — were masterful. They knew the value of old-fashioned horse trading and friendship.
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No doubt there will be times when the Biden administration will need some Republican votes to get past the filibuster threshold, which is when Barrasso can cash in on a relationship with the secretary of transportation to create long-term good for the state.
Jabs at the other side on cable news are not going to solve our state’s economic crisis, but some friendships might.
There are issues that our state and a Biden administration won’t agree upon, coal being one of them. Nonetheless, Barrasso has shown expertise in the area of transportation, and as both the senior member of our Washington delegation and a member of the Republican leadership structure, he is in an ideal position to work with moderates like incoming Secretary Buttigieg to create a vision for Wyoming that will last well beyond any one politician’s term.
While Senator Barrasso should certainly develop a positive working relationship with incoming Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, much more important is for Senator Barrasso to continue on the Senate EPW Committee, perhaps as the Ranking Member of the EPW Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, where he could continue to lead legislative work on transportation bills.
As Ranking Member on Transportation, he would retain a Big Four role and significant influence on the likely 2021 reauthorization of the massive surface transportation act, which as Dave Dodson correctly notes is a crucial funding source for federal transportation investments needed in Wyoming.
We should give Senator Barrasso credit for his leadership and statesmanship with the ATIA Bill he authored with Ranking Member Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Ben Cardin (D-MD). The bill was the largest highway legislation in history, and Sen. Barrasso’s committee passed the legislation unanimously, 21-0. That’s right, unanimous bipartisan support, even in 2020. Much of the good policy in that bill is likely to flow into the new 2021 bill.
Yes, relationships matter, and the fact Senator Barrasso forged a constructive relationship on his ATIA bill with now incoming EPW Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) merits recognition, and will pay dividends for Wyoming in the new Congress. I think Wyoming’s past leaders you cite would commend that progress.
Once again, Dave, you’re “right on” in terms of a logical, workable direction that will benefit Wyoming!