Cat Urbigkit: Profiles in Political Cowardice — WyoRino and WyoVote

in Cat Urbigkit/Column

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By Cat Urbigkit, Range Writing columnist

While the anonymous folks behind the websites WyoRino and WyoVote portray themselves as bastions of Conservatism (with a capital C), I’m calling out both for political cowardice. Both sites recently released political scorecards or rating systems for Wyoming legislators that should be cast aside by voters seeking an honest assessment of legislative performance.

In WyoVote’s case, it ranked legislators from most to least conservative. WyoRino issued a voting index that claims the majority of elected Republicans in the legislature aren’t actually Republicans at all.

What both sites have in common is their secrecy. Neither site reveals who is responsible for the scoring, and the domain ownership details for both websites are hidden by privacy services. What little we do know is that WyoRino was created by Ride for the Brand, Wyoming, which is a trade name registered by Seventeen Eighty Nine, LLC of Etna, Wyoming, with a stated purpose to “advocate for Wyoming.”

WyoVote

WyoVote claims that “A diverse Conservative team of Wyoming Citizens rated every bill that actually got to the floor of the legislature.” Each bill was rated on a scale from conservative to liberal, using this rating guide:



We can only imagine the scores for each bill, since those details are not disclosed – nor does it disclose the individual tallies for each of the approximately 300 votes cast per legislator. Apparently the keyboard Conservatives behind WyoVote don’t want anyone checking their math.

How do you suppose Senate File 83 banning the use of abortion drugs was scored? I’m betting would score high on the “conservative values” side, even though it falls squarely within the “liberal values” column since it invokes “greater government control of individuals.” And I’ll guess that banning masks and vaccination requirements would score high on the conservative side, because, you know, Conservatives like to claim they are for “personal autonomy” – except when it comes to women’s bodies.

Alas though, the bill scores remain as secret as the identity of the folks doing the scoring.

WyoRino

WyoRino.com claims “our citizen legislature is packed with a majority of elected officials who falsely claim to be Republicans.” Some back-of-the-envelope math reveals that WyoRino claims 63% of Wyoming Republicans currently serving in the legislature are RINOs, or “Republican in name only.”

WyoRino says it’s not affiliated with the Wyoming Republican Party but “remains intent on exposing elected state policy-makers who ran as Republicans but failed to adhere to Wyoming Republican values, resolutions and platform.”

WyoRino’s methodology differs from that used by WyoVote. WyoRino selected 10 bills from each legislative chamber and noted that it doesn’t matter how many bills it grades because “A RINO is a RINO whether 10 bills are graded or 30+ bills are graded.”

Some of the reasoning used by WyoRino in its bill grades seem concocted. WyoRino graded one bill a negative because it (HJ05) proposed a constitutional amendment on the governance of funds be put forth to the voters of the state, which WyoRino said violated a platform plank by “violating the consent of the governed.” The bill actually required the “consent of the governed” by requiring that the issue be decided directly by the voters.

A bill (SF15) increasing permit fees for oversize and overweight vehicles was viewed as a violation of the GOP opposition to tax increases. WyoRino simply ignored the difference between taxes (which are compulsory to all and are used to generate revenue for overall government function) and user fees (which recoups costs for the government to provide a particular service).

But the real zingers are in how WyoRino treats things it doesn’t like: They support government bans. While touting the need for “limited, constitutional government,” and declaring that the GOP opposes “big government,” and “big regulation,” WyoRino then favorably grades bills that impose more government control (such as bans on critical race theory, abortion drugs, and on private entities from requiring face coverings to enter their establishments).

Like WyoVote, WyoRino’s principles seem to shift in the wind. Sacred rights such as gun rights aren’t to be meddled with, but foundational rights such as voting should have even more restrictions, according to WyoRino’s bill grades. The hypocrisy is palpable.

Scorecards without Value

These scorecards provide no explanation why a legislator voted a particular way, and we all know that good governance requires attention to detail. While hot-button social issues might be high priority for the Wyoming GOP, I know legislators who voted against various bills for good reason, such as:

  • limiting introduction of general topic bills during the short budget session, attempting to focus on the three main issues before the legislature: the biennial budget, legislative redistricting, and allocating American Rescue Plan Act funds;
  • rejecting bills that contained unconstitutional provisions, or sanctioned public servants for doing their jobs; and
  • rejecting statewide mandates that eliminated options for local governments to respond to local needs, or that otherwise stripped authority from local elected officials.

But you won’t find any of this reasoning in the WyoRino and WyoVote voting indexes.

WyoRino tends to oppose any program of the Wyoming Business Council, or anything these covert keepers of Conservatism profess as falling into the realm of taxation. But their stated reasoning is fascinating.

In 2020, it opposed passage of the statewide lodging tax because “it interferes in the free market system and causes an increase in state government growth and fiscal irresponsibility.” That same year it also opposed taxation of nicotine products because it “penalizes an individual’s right to use nicotine products and unjustly taxes that individual.”

Bills aimed at improving Wyoming’s financial future are rejected as big government spending bills. While the GOP is opposed to big government spending, what solutions are Conservatives putting forth as a vision for Wyoming’s economic future? Let me know if you find anything.

WyoRino is sure that “the enemy” lurks inside the Republican Party, warning: “The war within our nation’s boundaries is every bit as real as those across the ocean. These truly are perilous times we live in and if we are not willing to do the hard work of vetting the candidates (at all levels) who are running this year, we may potentially live to see the demise of our Republic. Yes, it is that serious.”

Culture War Conservatives

Traditional conservatives understand that we don’t need government to decide on every social issue. We don’t want authoritarian government. We don’t want interfering or overprotective government. We don’t need state legislators treating Wyoming’s citizens as children, performing as a freedom-denying mechanism rather than allowing “we the people” to make decisions for ourselves.

While liberals have used government power to regulate things like the size of sugary drinks, “ride for the brand” nanny state cowboys stampede their stick horses to Cheyenne to demand the Wyoming Legislature restrict or ban things they dislike.

While calling it conservatism, they use the legislative branch of government to narrow both individual choice and individual responsibility as they promote more government interference in our lives – in our schools, medicine cabinets, bodies, businesses, and voting booths.

Instead of promoting limited government, these Conservatives seeking their desired outcomes on “culture war” issues abandon conservative principles. In deciding that they know what’s best for you, they are responsible for the decay of individual liberties.

So who’s the real RINO?

Evaluating Credibility

As you assess the claims or scorecards issued by special interest groups, you too can create a scoring system to evaluate their credibility. Borrowing a few concepts from the scientific method, let’s put on our critical thinking caps to evaluate the work of these clandestine Republican raters.

I developed a scorecard to assess their credibility, using a simple three-step test of transparency, methodology, and replicability, with scores of 0-20 points each, providing for a maximum of 60 points. The higher the points, the higher the credibility, with the range of 40-60 a passing grade.

Transparency: Basic sourcing and identification of individuals involved in the project, with declaration of conflicts of interest. 20 points possible. WyoVote: 0, WyoRino: 0.

Methodology: Detailed description of the methodology utilized. 20 points possible. WyoVote: 10, WyoRino: 20.

Replicability: As an independent evaluator, I can copy the same process and arrive at the same results. 20 points possible. WyoVote: 0, WyoRino: 0.

With WyoVote’s 10 points, and WyoRino’s 20 points, neither gets a passing grade.

Do Your Own Scoring

Looking for a scorecard? As I’ve just demonstrated, it’s easy to make your own. The Wyoming Eagle Tribune came up with a 100-point scoring system that can serve as a model for those wanting to assess the effectiveness of their legislators, and their system is easily adjustable to your personal priorities.

Of course, the best way to judge your legislator’s performance is to simply engage with them – they are your representatives after all.

Cat Urbigkit is an author and rancher who lives on the range in Sublette County, Wyoming. Her column, Range Writing, appears weekly in Cowboy State Daily.

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