What you won’t hear from Enzi, Lummis on campaign trail

— August 5, 2014

We all know what Sen. Mike Enzi and Rep. Cynthia Lummis will be doing during their five-week vacation from Washington, D.C., that began last Friday. They will hit the perfunctory campaign trail in Wyoming, and spend some of their considerable political donations to convince voters they deserve to go back and represent the state for another term.

Wyoming Campaign Finance
Kerry Drake

It won’t be a hard sell. At a time when many of their conservative Republican colleagues have to convince the Tea Partiers in their states they are truly committed to taking the country back from the socialists, Enzi and Lummis have two of the safest seats in Congress. They don’t even need to come back home to defeat the token primary opposition they respectively face — or for the general election, really — but it’s considered bad form not to at least go through the motions, so they do.

I’d like to focus on a couple of their pre-recess activities they might not mention, since they both caught some flak from other officials for the partisan tactics they employed as part of the GOP’s grand scheme to defeat the federal government from within. One lesson Lummis and Enzi have learned well during their careers is that taking on federal bureaucrats whose pursestrings they control is generally a solid populist move in this country, but they just discovered limits to the effectiveness of that strategy.

Remember how much mileage former Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin (R) got in her day by calling IRS agents “jack-booted thugs”? She’s undoubtedly proud that Lummis is using her playbook as a model to take on what is still the most-hated federal agency so many years later.

Lummis is a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that has spent much of the past year delving into the IRS’s allegedly biased handling of tax-exempt political groups. It didn’t get much attention here in Wyoming, but last month our congresswoman blasted IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, who complained to the panel that its probe has cost $18 million and deepened the already bad morale at his agency.

Thanks to Michael McAuliff of the Huffington Post, the encounter between Lummis and Koskinen won’t be lost to history or buried in the pages of the Congressional Record. Lummis told the commissioner that it’s her constituents who are the victims, not his workers.

“Morale is low in Wyoming because our government has turned against us,” Lummis said as she defended the relentless attack her committee’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), has waged in desperately trying to find a scandal he can attach to President Barack Obama before the mid-term elections. Issa’s Benghazi probe continues to stir up the Fox Newshounds, but never gained traction anywhere else because the public correctly understood the four tragic American deaths were largely due to security fund cuts at our consulates at the insistence of the GOP.

Congressional Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming)
Congressional Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming)

House Republicans have a lot riding on keeping the IRS non-controversy burning, and Lummis did her best to fan the flames. She said it is a legitimate investigation she hopes continues “at length … until we get to the truth,” because Americans simply can’t trust the IRS.

“The people we work for feel like the government is getting away with their tax dollars that they don’t owe,” Lummis asserted. “They feel like the government is denying them tax-exempt status that they deserve.”

Problems definitely existed in the way the agency reviewed applications for tax-exempt status, but were never as one-sided against conservative groups as Issa alleged. Yes, political groups with some form of the “Tea Party” in their names were targeted for further investigation, but so were organizations that had been labeled as “progressive.” Issa directed his panel’s probe to focus on anti-Tea Party activities, even though the IRS did not deny a single one of their applications. However, several liberal groups’ tax-exempt requests were rejected.

Lummis stepped over the line, McAuliff reported, when she said, “Our constituents are mortified and scared, and are gonna take matters into their own hands because they don’t feel we have the ability to do it ourselves.”

She didn’t say exactly what her constituents in Wyoming would do with their outrage, but she made it clear her state is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. The truth — that no conservatives here or anywhere else had been harmed or had their tax-exempt status turned down — didn’t matter.

That prompted a Democrat on the committee, Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, to admonish Lummis for not choosing her words more carefully, since they could incite the public to take things into their own hands. While he said he knew Lummis wasn’t actually advocating violence, the congressman noted there are plenty of armed, crazy people who shouldn’t be encouraged to become vigilantes. The stereotypical “jack-booted thugs” at the IRS have enough trouble doing their jobs without federal lawmakers stirring up already angry people.

That’s a take on the IRS non-scandal that won’t be heard on the campaign trail as Lummis visits picnics and parades throughout the state in the coming weeks. Likewise, Enzi probably won’t publicize his much-criticized move last week to keep a quarter of the nation’s embassies without ambassadors during a time of turmoil in many parts of the world — including Guatemala, Turkey, South Korea, Jamaica and Kazakhstan.

Senator Mike Enzi
Congressional Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyoming)

Enzi blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats to approve a number of ambassadorships at a time, including the proposed envoy to Moscow. Many were career diplomats, not partisan appointments, but Enzi described his action as payback for the Democrats adopting the “nuclear option” to end GOP filibusters against many presidential appointments last year.

Unbelievably, Enzi was one of the Republicans who had been battering Obama for being “disengaged” on Russia, but he blocked the confirmation of the American ambassador to the nation at a time when strong diplomatic relations were essential to our best interests. Senate Republicans reluctantly backed down and finally let our Russian ambassador be approved before the recess, but no progress was made on dozens of other nominations before they jetted out of town to campaign.

It was a shameful display of partisanship at a critical time for our nation’s security, made all the more egregious by the fact it was engineered by Wyoming’s senior senator, who preaches so much about the need to reach consensus on issues where there is common ground between political parties.

Both incidents are black marks against Enzi and Lummis for putting their party’s interests above what’s best not only for their Wyoming constituents, but for the entire country. As they campaign around the state, neither will likely be called to task by Republican primary voters. But they should be held accountable for taking positions that demean the political process — Lummis for incorrectly telling Congress no one in Wyoming respects or trusts the IRS, and Enzi for childishly blocking good, qualified people who should now be working for us overseas.

— 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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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. DeweyV – And don’t forget that this would spill over into State jobs as well. You may recall that many State employees (DEQ, Dept. of Family Services and others) were also furloughed back in October because a portion (or all) of their salaries came out of the federal budget through grants. Some other states (Montana may have been one of them) that have nowhere near the money Wyoming does told their State employees not to worry about it, to just do their jobs and they would figure something out. Wyoming State employees, despite the amount of money in the “rainy day fund,” were furloughed anyway. Eventually, they did receive most of the salary/leave time taken from them. However, considering the stress and lost productivity for over three weeks, it would have been a benefit to the State if the governor had handled the situation like the other states that “figured something out.”

  2. What a wonderful ” Thought Experiment” it would be to describe a suddenly De-Federalized Wyoming. What would this state look like if by flicking a switch or waving the GOP magic wand, all 20,000 federal employees were pink slipped ? What would Wyoming do without PILT money , highway trust fund construction money , agriculture and ranching subsidies and direct support dollars , or the federal funding component of state public schools ? What if the US Treasury decided to curtail all federal coal leases and keep the mineral royalty money from federal lands ? ( That last one is a doozy.) How would Wyoming manage to fight wildfires without federal assistance ? How would Wyoming adjust to losing the $2.50 in federal support for every $ 1.00 it pays in federal taxes…when you replace the word ” tax ” with ” payments for public services and goods rendered” , the picture gets stark. Wyoming likely could not stand on its own without the federal prop. We are in many ways the most federalized state in the Union , on a per capita basis.

    Let’s convene a forum where Enzi, Barrasso, and Lummis perform this very thought experiment. What would Wyoming be like when the Feds cut our allowance ? With respect to sovereignty , rugged individualism, states’ rights and all the anti-Federal ballyhoo, be careful what you ask for…