A voter trades a registration ticket for a ballot in Teton County on Nov. 3, 2020. (Angus M. Thuermer, Jr/WyoFile)

With the excommunication of Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney from the Republican Party leadership, what was intended to be a sleepy mid-term political season is shaping up to be a bellwether for what Wyoming looks for in a congressperson. 

Most of Cheney’s primary challengers seem to be running on a platform of partisan purity, which is exactly what the political parties want. Don’t fall for it. While 70% of the state was disappointed with the results of the 2020 election, we have more important issues facing our state than preserving former President Donald Trump’s political legacy.

Globally the U.S. is ranked 73rd in maternal mortality, 41st in life expectancy and 45th in child mortality. Put more bluntly, it’s more dangerous to live in the U.S. today than it was in the past. 

Yet Wyoming manages to underperform even our dismal national averages. Among the 50 states, we are 46th worst for deaths due to cancer, and have the 44th highest rate of diabetes. More Wyoming residents per capita die by suicide than any other state in the union. 

Meanwhile our state is facing a fiscal cliff, our drinking water is at risk and 10% of our bridges are so structurally deficient that they require repair or rebuilding.  As our national energy grid shifts from coal, we have communities that are in danger of becoming ghost towns.

While government is not the solution to everything, it does matter. Which is why I looked back at nearly 100 years of data to review congressional voting patterns. I found that for the first 50 years of the last century, congress members routinely voted with the other party to pass good policy. 

For example, when President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, the Senate passed it without a single nay vote, and in the House only one person voted against the bill. When George H.W. Bush signed the updated act, it passed the Senate 89 to 11. Under a Republican president, the Endangered Species Act sailed through the Senate unanimously and through the House 390 to 12. Even when lawmakers were not exclusively of one mind, like when Medicare passed in the Senate 70 to 24, senators didn’t sort solely by partisan affiliation — fully a quarter of those voting disagreed on the policy and crossed party lines in both directions.

Laws like these were passed while congressional party leadership changed hands, presidents of both parties occupied the White House, a war raged in Vietnam and Nixon resigned under threat of impeachment. That’s what a functioning democracy looks like.

But decades of sorting the electorate by party purity have ground our system to a halt. No Democrats voted for Trump’s 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and not a single Republican voted for the Affordable Care Act. Under President Barack Obama, the U.S signed the Paris Accords and cancelled the Keystone Pipeline, only to withdraw from the accords and approve the pipeline under Trump, so that four years later we can rejoin Paris and re-cancel Keystone under President Joe Biden — in the process whipsawing the Wyoming economy. This is what a non-functioning democracy looks like.

Over the last generation, the political industry has carefully sorted us by tribe, creating a historic shift in how we view ourselves and in the process grinding government to a halt. In 1980, only about 12% of U.S. counties voted overwhelmingly for one candidate (20 points or more). Today our neighborhoods are sorted so strongly along party lines that “landslide” counties have risen to a majority—  55%. Today we more strongly associate with our political party than our religion. Which is just how they want it.

Government cannot solve all our ills, but it does serve a role. And over the last half century it has been increasingly absent from the scene, unable to accomplish anything other than to perfect and refine a duopoly that fuels the parties’ interests while failing to fulfill their mission. 

Which is why the party apparatus would like Wyoming to base its next vote on party purity instead of issues such as Medicaid expansion, how to balance our state budget or what specifically we need to do to expand our economic base. 

As voters, it is our job to pay attention and support candidates who want to create good policy (regardless of who first thought of it) instead of those using division as the tool for winning elections. 

I don’t know how I will vote in 2022, but when I decide it will be based on what is best for Wyoming towns like Gillette, Rawlins and Glenrock … not Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

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Dave Dodson

Dave Dodson lives in Wyoming and is a former CEO and professor at Stanford University. He was a Wyoming Republican candidate for U.S. Senate. Read more from his archive at davedodson.com/news.

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  1. The Progressive Dems never break ranks when one of there own steps out of line. Cheney showed weakness by voting to impeach Trump; she aided the Dems and added legitimacy to their claims of an insurrection.

    It shouldn’t have to be this way, we should all have common goals and beliefs as Americans. But…the Dems have change the game. They sabotaged evrything Trump tried to accomplish. To achieve their goal of a new Progressive America, the ends justify the means.

    Conservativism over the GOP. Trump is just a man and we can’t put all of out hopes and dreams on him. He is on our team and Cheney sided with the left…so she’s got to go.

  2. I find your opinion, well irritating and absolutely aweful

    Cheney’s politics coincided with the gop and trump the majority of the time

    The issue here is not her political views instead the conflict is those that adhere to King trump and look the other way at his corruption, incitement of a insurrection of the United states Government, and the big lie that he didnt lose … and insist cheney does too

    And cheneys refusal to as a US congress representative who took a vow to the constitution to protect america from exactly those types of actions to heart and refused to spread trumps lie

    It is that freaking simple

  3. At least once per year I post this black pearl of wisdom that clarifies the conundrum of Wyoming politics. I signed up for the Politics and Government of Wyoming class at Northwest College in Powell in 1969. The professor was my dad’s old college roommate from UW in the late 1930’s , the venerable John T. Hinckley . Hinck had a distinguished academic career and had been at NWC since Day One. When the college built a dedicated Library building, they named it after him.

    Day one , Hour one , the very first words out of Professor Hinckley’s mouth , to wit: ” Anyone who thinks they can teach you a damn thing about Wyoming politics is a fool …”

    I never forgot that . In the forty years since I have seen no evidence to the contrary. Many have tried to explain or rationalize how Wyoming does its political business. None got it. Still don’t. Even when we had a loading dock full of Democrats at the statehouse…

  4. It’s not about Trump’s political legacy – – – – – It’s about his policies which worked for America!!

    1. What policies ? Eliminating environmental protections? Eliminating consumer protections from wallstreet? Increasing the national trade deficit by billions? Increasing the deficit to nearly two trillion
      A year? Increasing the national debt by 8 trillion in four years, the biggest four year increase in history?

      How about his policies if ignoring a looming pandemic and refusing to do a damn thing but golf and rallies, half a million dead wasnt a good policy now was it

  5. 2X Bravo! An excellent column that makes a whole lot of sense. The strident partisanship that has gripped the nation in the last 20-30 years is crippling our government and our democracy, and I fear for our country if we are unable to overcome it and get back to doing what is best for the country, regardless of which party occupies the Oval Office and/or has the majority in Congress. We need more level-headed, wise columns like this one! Thank you, Dave Dodson.

  6. This article is obviously written by a ‘never trumper’ and misses the real reason most Wyoming voters dislike Cheney. Dick Cheney was, and mostly currently still is highly respected in Wyoming. Liz did not grow up here, she grew up in the belt-way and took on many of the characteristics of that part of the country. Her visceral dislike of President Trump clouds her judgement. It is important to note, and yes I am a long term Wyoming Resident, that the ‘purity’ test is ‘conservative’ not Republican. I definitely am annoyed by Dodson’s anti-trump and apparently anti-conservative leanings.

    1. It is important to note that Liz Cheney, during the last 2 years of the Trump presidency, voted 93% of the time in line with the president, and only “called him out” when January 6th happened. That seems like pretty CLEAR judgement: making her own decisions based on what she feels is best for our government, not her political career. Most conservative public figures agree with her, the ones not running for office any longer, anyway. Your apparent alignment with everything “conservative”, and visceral dislike of anything not, is exactly what Dave Dodson is speaking to: that if ALL of us opened our eyes and supported what is best for the common good, instead of falling into the fear of those who are different from us, we wouldn’t be witnessing this dismantling of our democracy.

    2. You have it backwards. Any true American would be against Trump. An authoritarian wannabe, grifter, groper, fraud, lier.
      Wyoming native.

    3. “I definitely am annoyed by Dodson’s anti-trump and apparently anti-conservative leanings” but not Trump’s behavior? I haven’t been a Cheney fan for some of the reasons you listed but this is not a political issue. This is a constitutional issue that rises above party fealty and conservative/liberal ideology.

    4. I am curious about ‘the real reason most Wyoming voters dislike Cheney.’ since she received over 62% of the Wyoming vote in 2016, 2018, and almost 69% of the Wyoming vote in 2020, just months before she called out President Trump….

  7. Bravo, a breath of fresh air into the WY political arena and a great history lesson on what can be accomplished with men and women focused on the issues and choosing concrete actions rather than the smoke and mirrors of political manipulation!!! The importance of knowing and understanding the US System of Government is ever more crucial now!!! Thanks Wyofile!!!

    Cynthia N. Willson
    Native born and resident of Cheyenne
    cynthianwillson@earrhlink.net

  8. Dave: Not only Mar-a-Lago, Florida, but Washington DC, San Francisco, New York City, Paris, London,
    and Peking.