By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist
While the Wyoming Legislature meets and considers GOP-backed measures imposing additional restrictions on voting in the name of “election integrity,” it’s worthwhile to take a look at voting patterns in the state.
In 2020, 52% of voting-age Wyomingites were registered to vote in the primary election, but only about 32% of these folks actually voted. That voter turnout was up from the paltry 25% in 2012’s primary, but those are anemic numbers as compared to voter participation in the primaries of the 1990s.
Despite the low participation rate in the primaries, the GOP focus isn’t on increasing the number of Republicans voting its primaries, and the party’s actions may set that number into further decline.
After the 2020 primary, an additional 25,000 Wyoming people registered as Republicans and cast their ballots in the general election, and nearly 63% of all registered voters in Wyoming participated in the election. The GOP had momentum, but what’s happened since? Since shortly before the Jan. 6, 2021 rally and attack on our nation’s capitol, the Wyoming Republican Party’s number of registered voters has declined by more than 13,000 by the end of February.
The GOP strategy to further restrict voting rights stands in stark contrast to its pledges to protect what it calls “sacred rights.”
While the Wyoming Republican Party State Central Committee is busy casting out those it disfavors, attempting to quell internal dissent, and now requires that all disputes between party members appear before a Wyoming GOP tribunal, it also claims to be protecting our “sacred rights.” The GOP’s pursuit of “Riding for the Brand” has turned authoritarian, requiring strict obedience to its authority at the expense of personal freedoms.
Although the Wyoming Republican Party says it stands for freedom and the preservation of the liberties upon which our nation was built, the policy positions adopted by the party’s State Central Committee (SCC) in the last few years belie that claim.
The U.S. Constitution’s provision granting automatic citizenship at birth needs fixed, according to the SCC, to only apply “to an individual born of at least one United States citizen or a legal resident.” Any law enforcement officer should be “allowed to ask the legal status of criminal suspects and to aid the federal government in the deportation of criminal illegal aliens.” I’m guessing that not many of the attendees at that SCC meeting were from minority populations that have more experience with racial profiling.
Those seeking citizenship in America “should assimilate themselves to the United States of America,” according to the GOP. What does that statement even mean? Giving up their cultures because they become U.S. citizens? Let Native Americans (you know, those people who were here first) tell you about their experiences with cultural assimilation.
While the SCC wants English designated as the official language of the country, what’s interesting is its reasoning: since “multiple languages being spoken cause a breakdown of communication, and is divisive,” the GOP offers the English language “in the spirit of unity.” Guess the party didn’t “assimilate” with the Natives that already inhabited Wyoming when their ancestors arrived in the region. Nevermind that while most people in the U.S. do indeed speak English, millions of our citizens also speak other languages in this vast melting pot that is America.
In its push to sustain equality, the SCC distinguishes “Christian” refugees from “illegal immigrants,” proclaiming that “persecuted Christians are denied refugee status worldwide,” so “the Wyoming Republican Party will welcome persecuted Christians after a reliable vetting process.”
These representatives of the party of freedom proudly proclaim that all humans are equal, but then adopt resolutions carving out those freedoms.
While proclaiming it “stands for freedom in health care,” the SCC states “We will stand for freedom and the opportunity to choose the medical procedures, vaccinations, or examinations used upon any person’s body” – but that freedom doesn’t extend to a woman’s healthcare decisions. The GOP wants abortion outlawed, even in cases of rape or incest. So hey ladies, don’t worry your pretty little heads about it – the GOP has made that medical decision for you.
And since womankind obviously needs protection, the GOP wants to ban transgender girls and transwomen from women’s sports. To be fair, in 2020 the GOP also wanted to ban transgender boys and transmen from men’s sports, but earlier this year decided to only seek the ban in women’s sports.
The SCC-approved resolutions include ad nauseam references to traditional marriage, civilized society and the importance of marriage being a union between a man and a woman, but also refers to undefined “alternative lifestyles” while complaining about “sexual orientation and gender identity” being added to anti-discrimination laws and practices. The GOP claims that adolescents “experience confusion about many things, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and they are particularly vulnerable to environmental influences” but most will grow out of it, according to the resolutions used justify the party’s opposition to transgender athletes in selected sports.
While I believe the SCC is in the dark ages when it comes to gay and transgender issues, I’m thankful that science continued to advance. The first major medical treatise on transsexuality was published in the 1960s, about the same time as major medical advances such as the development of vaccines for polio, measles and mumps, and the first human heart transplants and balloon catheters. Since then, science has cloned a sheep, drafted the human genome, developed artificial kidneys, eradicated smallpox, and discovered that HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and then developed a treatment for what had until then been a fatal disease. Fortunately, gender-related health care has advanced as well, and is a far cry from the GOP mentality of hoping they’ll grow out of it.
And while the SCC supports the military, it prefers that gay members of the military remain in the closet. That 2020 policy resolution declares that “the presence of on-duty, transgender or homosexual relationships in the military may greatly weaken the effectiveness of the military” while demanding a return to Democratic President Bill Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to “mitigate the open perpetuation of homosexuals in the military.”
Freedom. Equality. Family. But only as defined by the SCC.
The SCC “believes that all education standards shall be delegated to the local school boards, with the State Board of Education having an advisory role” – except for its new position urging the “banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, and the 1619 Project from all Wyoming public schools and public colleges.” Rather than following the conservative principle that less government intrusion in our lives is best, the GOP tends to seek statewide bans on things it disapproves.
While the SCC has spent considerable effort chasing culture war talking points, the good news is that there are still plenty of Republicans in Wyoming who do firmly believe in the rights set out in the United States and Wyoming constitutions; who believe in individual liberty and that each person’s ability, dignity, freedom and responsibility should be honored and recognized; who believe that the most effective government is government closest to the people and that the best government is that which governs least; and who support the free exercise of religious beliefs without discrimination or preference.
The brand we ride for is this Wyoming Republican Party:
These Republicans, of which I am one, believe it’s important to focus our efforts on moving Wyoming forward in the face of various economic, social and political challenges, who cast aside the politics of division in favor of working to strengthen our economy, improve education for our children, and provide for a high quality of life for Wyoming’s citizens.
I am concerned that policies adopted by the SCC infringe on individual liberties, harm Wyoming’s economy, and make our youth turn toward other states that offer greater opportunities, diversity, and respect for individual freedoms. The GOP’s treatment of political opponents as though they are enemies and not our neighbors serves to create further divisions when we should be acting for the good of the people in Wyoming.
The recent GOP precinct caucuses in Sublette County had a grand total of 16 Republicans participating in policy discussions – of the county’s more than 4,000 Republicans. This tiny group represents 0.37% of the county’s registered Republicans and puts forth the grassroots policy of the party. When the SCC adopts policies, it claims to represent the majority of Wyoming Republicans, but does it really? Your involvement, or lack thereof, will determine the future of the party in Wyoming, since we only get out of it what we put into it.
This month of March, each county Republican Party will convene in their county conventions, developing the party’s policy platforms and resolutions that will be subject to debate and voting. Consider this your invitation to get involved. Contact your county’s elected party leadership to learn how your voice can be heard. Policy positions adopted at the county conventions will then go forward for debate at the Wyoming.
Policy positions adopted at the county conventions will then go forward for debate at the Wyoming State Republican Party Convention May 5-7 in Sheridan. We will reap what we sow.