It’s been a good year for Wyoming Dems

— February 25, 2014

Kerry Drake
Kerry Drake

After covering the Legislature for two weeks in Cheyenne, what I’ve taken away is that this is a good year to be a Democrat in Wyoming.

No, not because they’re getting a lot of bills passed – they’re too small in numbers to do that. As House Minority Leader Mary Throne (D-Laramie) said Saturday night at the annual Nellie Tayloe Ross Dinner in Cheyenne, they call themselves the “Dirty Dozen.” Having eight members in the House and four in the Senate means that to get their ideas heard or passed, they have had to become experts in the lost art of compromise.

It’s a good year to be a Democrat because it’s an election year, and after watching 10 days of Republican legislators in action, I have absolutely no idea what issues the majority of them are going to run on this fall. Wyoming GOP legislative candidates have had much success in past elections promoting a conservative agenda focusing on such social issues as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. Democrats should make their opponents be accountable for their no votes on Medicaid expansion, the minimum wage and early childhood education — all issues that have hurt our state’s poorest citizens.

They can’t run as fiscal conservatives. Not after repeatedly voting against Medicaid expansion. How will they explain rejecting a program that would have saved Wyoming $43 million this year? In addition, by their actions, the state will actually lose $80 million by not expanding Medicaid to include approximately 17,600 low-income, childless adults who not only can’t benefit from the program, they can’t qualify for Affordable Care Act subsidies to gain health insurance.

What’s going to be their slogan to explain that horrendous outcome? “We Sure Showed the Feds” and “We Know How to Lose-Lose” don’t exactly inspire confidence on bumper stickers.

After killing four bills and two budget bill amendments, Republicans in the Legislature finally passed something related to Medicaid expansion on Friday when the House approved an amendment that authorizes the governor, health director and insurance commissioner to negotiate with federal officials for a Medicaid waiver demonstration project in Wyoming.

That action provides a glimmer of hope that expansion will eventually happen, but only if what our executive trio agrees to passes muster in 2015 when legislators vote on the deal. But even that small victory could be derailed if the House-Senate budget bill compromise doesn’t keep the House’s amendment. If the authority to negotiate stays in and an acceptable program is crafted, it still means that the thousands of poor Wyoming residents who could have had Medicaid benefits immediately will have to wait at least a year to sign up. Some of them won’t be alive.

Next up is an increase in the state minimum wage, which is long overdue. A bill to raise it from the $5.15 now on the books to $9 an hour was sponsored by Democratic Rep. James Byrd of Cheyenne. He knew it wasn’t going to pass, but the legislator also realized it’s a popular issue. At least one poll DFM Research did late last year in Wyoming showed 69 percent support for an increase.

It takes 40 votes in the 60-member House during a budget session to introduce a bill. If GOP lawmakers were in touch with how the people of Wyoming feel about this issue, Byrd’s measure could have easily won introduction, been debated and passed. Instead, it drew only nine votes for introduction. Only one Republican, Rep. Mike Madden of Buffalo, voted with the eight Democrats on a bill that, according to the Economic Policy Institute, would have given at least 35,000 Wyoming workers a raise.

An employee in the state who receives the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour makes less than $15,000 a year, which means he or she is eligible for food stamps and other public assistance. These jobs usually don’t come with any benefits, including health insurance, and often all of the adults in a family have to work one or more jobs each to eke out a living. There is no evidence that an increase in the minimum wage would increase unemployment, but Republicans in Wyoming and everywhere else trot out that same tired line whenever the question of paying people anything close to a livable wage comes up.

We all know that some Republicans in Congress have done their best to tank the economy for their political benefit while a Democrat is in the White House, but how will the state GOP explain not helping hard-working people in Wyoming?

As irrational as these votes against Medicaid expansion and a minimum wage hike are, voting against early childhood education is downright crazy – especially for a political party that is always talking about how children our are future and the importance of a strong education. House Republicans shot down a bill sponsored by the House Education Committee that would have helped the four state agencies that have early childhood education programs better communicate, along with a $1 million grant program to enhance such programs throughout the state.

Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R-Evansville) made a totally ridiculous argument against the bill when he said, “I just think we need to make it clear that parents are in charge of their children’s education, not the government.”

That was a two-fer, in the GOP’s eyes; Not only did Kroeker get to bash big government, he got to indirectly stick it to disadvantaged parents who have so little concern for their children that they actually put them in preschool programs where they learn things that will help them when they get to public school. The sad thing is, it worked.

The Senate got to shoot down its own early childhood education proposal when Sen. James Anderson (R-Glenrock) offered a third reading amendment to the budget bill that would have added the $1 million grant program that the House nixed. Fellow Republican after fellow Republican stood up to say that gee, we really hate to vote against this, but we shouldn’t be passing a new program in the budget, and besides, if we have better teachers, they will be able to help these disadvantaged kids catch up. So they voted against the amendment, 7-20. And (you probably saw this coming) they voted to decrease the size of the pay hike for public school teachers.

On these three issues alone, Democrats should be able to pick up state legislative seats if they hammer home the notion during the campaign that voting to deny poor people health care, stiffing the working poor on a much-needed raise and not helping kids prepare adequately for public school and to get ahead are not Wyoming values.

This could be a record year for Democratic gains in the Legislature, but first the party has to have candidates to run against Republicans who keep getting re-elected because they are unopposed. With so much to exploit in the Republicans’ voting record, there should be no shortage of Democrats willing to toss their hats in the ring, to the point where maybe we’ll even see more contested Democratic primaries. That competition will be good, too.

And while Republicans’ voting records have made this a good year for all Wyoming Democrats, the one who will probably have the best year of all will be whoever takes on newly appointed Republican Rep. Troy Mader of Gillette, who was picked to fill the seat of the late Sue Wallis.

Even though Wallis was conservative on many issues, she was also pro-choice, favored legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage and still managed to be elected by her constituents three times. What do you think the voters of her district will think of candidate Mader, the author of a 1987 anti-gay screed who seems intent on destroying her legacy?

Here’s my advice to Mader, based on his performance in the Legislature so far: Don’t even bother wasting your candidate filing fee.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is editor-in-chief of the nonprofit, online community newspaper, The Casper Citizen. 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. Tried to get my 19 yr old insurance. 148.00 month shes in high school and will go to C.C. My income is 739.00 a month/after working 20 +years and have been an amputee since 1982. Thank you Rep. and teaparty…Gov. Mead. Shes been sick and I had to file bankrupsy in 2002 Here we go again

  2. I agree that Wyoming Republicans have made some stupid moves this year, especially sticking it to the hospitals that will now (still) foot the bill for people coming in through emergency rooms who are unable to pay for medical care. Wasn’t it a Republican law passed under Reagan (mandatory emergency coverage for all US citizens) that they’ve as well as defunded for Wyoming–though other states will get the funding? “Boom!” for their economies…a bust for us. Reagan and G.H. Bush were “kinder, gentler” Republicans, though. This new breed could roll that law back, so about 111 Wyomingites can rot on the street. Even three years ago, our state legislators had enough sense to shoo a dark-money anti-education campaign away. The anti-education sentiment that is now afoot among Republicans may be getting stronger–not weaker. There is now an anti-CCSS (Common Core State Standards) movement, because of the mistaken conclusion that it is a federal agenda. (It was brought into being by state governors looking for a way to cooperate with each other and higher education and shave costs off assessment, while simultaneously preparing students to compete in a world marketplace where the educational attainment and skills of foreigners surpasses that of Americans.) As a teacher, I am quite annoyed that all the prep work we have been doing for three years for the Common Core could be swept away by the stroke of a pen from legislators without professional credentials in education. There were plenty of terrible laws proposed this session that would really stick it to our schools, teachers, and ultimately the youth of Wyoming. Something that is not new this year, however, is the idiotic and idealogical trend to inadequately fund early childhood education. This is not the first year that state legislators have voiced that a woman’s place is in the home under the pseudo-“rationality” that parents are “the best educators.” Certain Wyoming attitudes die hard, and the equality(huh?) state has some entrenched thinking that will be quite hard to transform.

  3. I am so sick of ALEC laws being passed incognito to our detriment, and the detriment of the nation, the right has one agenda in mind, the wealth of the wealthy!
    The “Equality State” has become the “Equality, if we think you deserve it and you have lots of money, State”, this is not a nation of people anymore, it is a nation of the .01% that owns us, they are not with us, we are their “overhead”, to be whittled on, to be downsized, to do more with less, they put the “small fishes” out of business so their empire grows so large that they are our only option to buy anything from and paying wages that allow us to buy only from them! If we are unable to work for them, then we must be taking from them!
    They claim to be fiscally conservative, yet they cost the nation $24 billion shutting down the government because they didn’t want to pay the bills they racked up! Taking 40 odd votes to repeal a law that won’t be repealed,, costing millions Each, and on and on!
    Democrats may tax and spend, but at least they plan on paying for it, Republicans cut taxes and spend, how will you pay down the debt that way?
    Cynthia Lummis voted to cut food stamp programs, yet voted herself more in farm subsidies, she has received over a quarter of a $million of them to date!
    Every Republican that is not independently wealthy (of the 1%) and votes a straight red ticket is cutting their own throat, and you can take that to the bank!!

  4. The expansion work on the ACA in our legislature makes no sense for Wyoming. ON the other hand for the GOP in Wyoming is another story. I believe ( No am certain ) both the Wyoming and the federal GOP do not believe that their contributing core (the group that contributes significant amount of money to campaigns ) want the ACA at all. FOX News and different media means have convinced a significant amount of the population that the ACA is not good for America. With this in mind these two groups, the State and Fed GOP are hoping they can win the midterm nations elections. Control both the Senate and house and then can then either neuter or kill the ACA and then take their losses and go on. Depend on poor media coverage, put out lots of miss information take some losses and go on. Ask yourselves now, will Charlie in two years loose his reelection even after giving up some 48 million dollars?? I think that depends on the media, amount of money spent on reelection and the candidate that runs against him. On the other hand if we changed Citizens United this would change how we as the United States did the business of elections, news, miss information, information. Think about that please!!!!! / Don Cuin

  5. Its pretty apparent that the Teton County leadership of Wy. Democrats has helped the train wreck of wedge issue politics. It will be interesting.

  6. Daddy’s Girl.

    I was not referring to the redistribution from wealthy to poor or vice versa. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t do that.

    Raising the minimum wage redistributes among those earning that amount. Some of people lose their jobs, some of people earn more. If the price of labor was raised to a “living wage” (I estimated for a school project this would be around 16 dollars an hour), many many people would lose their jobs, especially those whose jobs can be automated and those working for companies in industries with small profit margins (like small mom and pop restaurants and stores in Wyoming).

    A minimum wage job is the lowest rung on the economic ladder, this needs to be as low as possible, for the sake of my sister sitting in the Laramie County Jail (hopefully out soon), for the sake of my baby sister who is 13 and wants to get a job and has no experience. Not so much for the sake of my 3rd sister who is about to graduate from UW after working her ass off for a petroleum engineering degree…. (If you got confused, the Craig family in Cheyenne has 7 kids, lol).

  7. In the spring of 2008 , a remarkable thing happened up here in the Republican bastion of Park County. Due to the massive groundswell surrounding the Obama presidential run energizing the independents, populists and Democrats nationwide. In a happening that can rightly be compared to the emergence of the 17-year Cicada, over 400 people turned out for the Park County Democratic Caucus. Four hundred plus. There were nowhere near that many at the Republican caucus, yet the GOP have outregistered the Dems at the polls by about a 5-to 2 ratio.

    For a brief moment like a solar flare on the surface of the Sun , the Democrats showed they still exist , draw breath upright, and could be marshalled in big numbers in the middle of a Republican stronghold.

    2012 ? —hardly any Dems turned out to caucus. No candidates to get behind , including the Disappointer-in-Chief Obama. Meanwhile, over at the Park County GOP county convention , and equally amazing but much more odiferous happening occurred. The rabid Tea Party and the rabble of social conservatives who live and die by Anti-Abortion and Gay Bashing above all formed an ad hoc coalition and totally usurped the Park COunty Republican Party. They did this by merely turning up at the meetings and having the votes to accomplish a smackdown of the staid GOP . The GOP apparatchiks were elsewhere just when they were need the most for the one thing for one day every 2-4 years to keep the Republican steamroller running…show up at the local barn dance with a dance card. Since Nature abhors a vaccuum, even in politics, the lunatic Tea Party and bipolar Right-To-Lifers are now in charge of the GOP asylum around here.

    As such , the average IQ of the Park County Republican party plummeted, but the blood pressure went sky high.

    I guess we have to wait another 12 years for those Democratic Cicadas to emerge from their burrows deep beneath the frostline and fray. But they are there..

  8. It’s pretty easy to have a good year when the bar is set so low……..and what you have to say is so irrelevant.

    Keep in mind, more democrat/liberal success means:
    – more entitlement society
    – increased welfare roles (increase the those voting democrat)
    – more regulations, increased loss of individual rights in the name of improving society
    – more good government taking care of us
    – increased minimum wage for those unwilling to get the skill set necessary to participate in the economy. It is hard work, but when the lowest skill set get a raise, it reduces yet again the incentive to improve ones marketability.
    – higher taxes and additional redistribution of wealth from those participating in the economy
    – a reduction of the in the number of people contributing to the economy (53%) while the number taking from the economy (47%) grows
    – more Obama phones
    – more shoppers in Wal-Mart, 1 in 5 shoppers in WM are on food stamps and welfare. I’d invest my hard earned wages in WM stock, but the redistribution is taking all my hard earned money I earned in wages.

  9. Excellent stuff, Kerry. Dems — and all independent-minded Wyomingites — should remember the phrase, THESE ARE NOT WYOMING VALUES, whenever confronted with the travesty that is the state GOP’s platform.

  10. Regarding the redistribution of wealth, in response to Casey Craig: How is wealth created? By the people who get only wages for it. But it is reaped by shareholders, corporations, CEOs and other corporate officers. Shouldn’t the people creating the wealth for them receive some fruits for their labors? Otherwise the wealth is being redistributed from the workers’ time and energy to those who didn’t create it. That’s the reality most people never hear or think about, because all they think is the poor want what the wealthy “earned.” The people who do the work EARN it, but don’t receive it. It is already being redistributed to people who think they are better than mere workers. And that IS the attitude many wealthy people have — that they deserve opulence, others don’t. You can hear it on Fox. They begrudge poor people having anything — cell phones (try to find a pay phone anymore; everyone needs a phone), cars (how are they supposed to get to work or buy groceries without one? And many poor people are lucky to have one to live in, and it’s more than likely a bucket of bolts), refrigerators (how the hell is anyone supposed to eat without a fridge?? They sure don’t have the bucks to go to restaurants!). I’ve heard them say these things on Fox. They apparently think poor people should be uncomplaining wage slaves who don’t need to eat and shouldn’t mind living under bridges.

    Fortunately not all employers treat workers badly, but any company that pays people minimum wage is basically saying “if I could pay you less and get away with it, I would.”
    Low-wage work is often the hardest work. People deserve a living wage.

  11. You are correct Mr. Elktruck, I re-read the article and it was a weak comment. I am humbled.

    Best of luck. 🙂

  12. This is a really weak comment I intend to make, there are many strong points supporting my view that I shall not elucidate. As promised by his headline, Mr. Drake discusses Democrats and Democratic party principles in this article. Raising the minimum wage, like all economics, can be thought of as distribution of money from one place to another, or as redistribution or even as re-redistribution of money if this kind of terminology strikes your fancy (especially if these words are linked in your mind to the fact that the president is a secret communist). The point about medicaid is weak when you consider the fact that I have just now said so (and what a majority of people in our democratic society support I will impugn by referring to their will as that of the government, since my analysis consists mostly of word games, doesn’t it?)

    There is much potential for Wyofile’s comment section (after all, anything can happen on the internet…), I just don’t think this is a very good example of it.

  13. This is a really weak article, there are many strong points that could be made about what is going on in Cheyenne under Republican leadership. Instead Mr. Drake chose to stick to national democrat talking points. Raising the minimum wage simply redistributes income among the poor, some lose, some win, it sure sounds good though (especially since it polls so well, after all who is against higher wages?). The point about medicaid expansion saving money is weak when you take the long view and realize that while it might be saving money now, eventually this will expand the budget (but expanding the government isn’t the talking point , is it?).

    There is much potential for Wyoming democrats (when you hit rock bottom the only way you can go is up…), I just don’t think petty talking points will get the job done.