By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily
U.S. Rep Liz Cheney’s recent decision to abstain from voting on two pro-choice abortion bills caught heat during a Republican U.S House debate in Evanston on Tuesday night.
Cheney did not participate in the debate sponsored by the Uinta County Republican Party, but GOP primary challenger Harriet Hageman criticized her for being absent from Congress for the two votes.
“I believe she’s attempting to shore up support from the Democrats and that’s why she stayed away from voting for that,” candidate Harriet Hageman said.
Another challenger, state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, who is has taken consistent pro-life stances, seemed to express sympathy for Cheney, since her single vote would not have changed the final result of either bill.
One bill in question are the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would make the constitutional protection of abortion rights provided in the landmark Roe vs. Wade ruling a part of federal law. The other is the the Ensuring Women’s Right to Reproductive Freedom Act, which would reaffirm the right for someone seeking an abortion to travel freely across state lines.
Jeremy Adler, a spokesman for Cheney, said the congresswoman missed the votes because she was traveling to Wyoming to attend the 55th Annual Ethete Celebration Powwow on the Wind River Reservation.
But Hageman said Cheney should have been in Washington, D.C., for the vote.
“I believe it was reprehensible that Wyoming’s lone representative was nowhere to be found when that vote was taken,” Hageman said.
Although saying she is pro-life, Cheney supported the decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade and return authority over abortions to the states.
“Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court returns power to the states and the people of the states to address the issue of abortion under state law.”
Hageman reaffirmed her pro-life stance during the debate and said abortion should be decided on a state level.
“It was never for the courts to declare this right,” she said. “It’s been a stain on our country for over 50 years. The Dobbs decision has rightfully returned (abortion authority) to the state so that the people who are accountable to you and you elect right here in Wyoming will be responsible for making the decision on such an incredibly important issue.”
Hageman said Cheney is using Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat to pursue an agenda the majority of residents don’t agree with. Bouchard said he’s never been in a situation where he’s voted against the wishes of his constituents.
“I think the word you’re looking for is accountability and that’s what we don’t have with our current representative,” Hageman said. “We are a Constitutional republic, meaning the people we sent to either Cheyenne or Washington, D.C. are to represent us and represent our interests.”
Hageman also expressed displeasure for Cheney’s recent vote for the most wide-ranging gun control legislation approved in nearly 30 years.
Cheney defended her vote at the time saying it was a “sensible bill that will protect our children and limit violence without infringing on law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights.”
“That was an outrageous move on her part and again, I believe it’s an effort to shore up Democrats’ support in the state of Wyoming,” Hageman said. “She has absolutely betrayed us. She has betrayed us repeatedly and that is just the most recent example.”
Bouchard attempted to use this topic as a way to separate himself from the other candidates.
“I support the Second Amendment but I’m the only guy out there that has a record for doing it,” he said, the founder of pro-gun group Wyoming Gun Owners of America.
During the Legislature’s last session, Bouchard unsucesfully sponsored legislation that would have prohibited state law enforcement officials from enforcing unconstitutional federal firearm regulations.
A water and natural resources attorney, Hageman has spent the past 25 years traveling the country and delivering a speech called “Regulation Without Representation,” where she makes the argument the country is losing its separation between federal and state’s rights.
She brought up the recent U.S. Department of Agriculture consideration of rules requiring schools to update their non-discrimination policies and signage to include prohibitions against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in order to receive school meal funding.
“We are losing our Constitutional foundation of separation of powers and how critically important it is that we return legislative responsibility to the legislative branch — that is what we have lost, especially over the last 30 years,” Hageman said, adding she will “return power to the states where it belongs.”
Hageman and Bouchard leaned into their professional backgrounds when giving many answers over the evening. Hageman’s experience has come in the courtroom, while Bouchard’s was in the State Capitol. Fellow candidate Robyn Bellinskey, who runs a home cleaning service in Sheridan, described herself as the “relatable candidate” in the race.
“I also did try to get an endorsement from (former) President Trump but I found out that wasn’t necessary,” Bellinskey said. “A lot of people in Wyoming could care less. All they want is actual representation and someone relatable to what they go through every day, not being a politician or an attorney.”
Trump has endorsed Hageman in the race.
All the candidates agreed that change is needed at the U.S. Capitol and Bouchard said members of the Wyoming Legislature are being bribed with grant and program funds from the federal government, a practice he also said is also occurring in the U.S. Congress. He hasn’t accepted any political action committee funds during his campaign.
“You’ve got the carrot dangling in front of you where you are actually beholden to them,” Bellinskey said.
During his time in the legislature, Bouchard fought against Obamacare and accepting COVID-19 grant money from the federal government. Hageman said she was disturbed by the state’s decision to accept the federal funds.
“What they did is they really turned our governors into crack addicts, getting more and more federal money,” Hageman said.
She said all federal funds should be block granted to the states so that state legislators can decide how those funds will be used through their own policy.
“Make policy through the power of the purse,” she said.
Bouchard continued the trend of colorful analogies, referring to members of Congress as “drunken sailors who are spending too much money.”
He said spending needs to be cut, the Federal Reserve needs to be removed and an audit should be performed of the federal government to solve the issue of rapid inflation.
Bouchard also criticized U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis for her focus on cryptocurrency legislation, hiring staff members with a background in the field.
“These guys will spend money like drunken sailors, that’s what the fight is,” he said.
Hageman said small businesses are the driving force behind the economy and blamed President Joe Biden’s administration policy on energy for the inflation.
“Energy security is national security,” she said. “Energy security is why we have been as prosperous as we’ve been.”
Bouchard said he is tired of politicians who say one thing on-camera but then do another when it comes to their vote.
“What we have in Washington (D.C.) is a bunch of people who say they are going to do something, but they never do it,” Bouchard said. “They’re very good actors, they like to act.”
Bellinskey said she would support enacting term limits for the Senate and the House as a way to eliminate the “good ol’ boy system.”
Bouchard complemented U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, for standing up to members of his own party and Trump against the COVID funds because of his prediction it would cause inflation.
“If we had listened to the one man who said let’s not do this,” Bouchard said. “It’s not popular. To stand there and do that, I know what that’s like. What we need in Congress is people that will stand up and do what’s not popular.”
He criticized U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who has endorsed and given money to Hageman’s campaign, for giving powers away. But Hageman mentioned Jordan and some of the more conservative members of the Congress during the debate, as people she would like to work with if elected.
“I will build relationships so I am ready on day one,” she said.
All of the candidates agreed that elections should be governed on the state level, even for federal positions.
Hageman brought up the recent Pennsylvania decision making private election funding illegal. In 2020 a nonprofit tied to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sent $350 million, now often called “Zuckerbucks,” to local election offices across the nation for get-out-the-vote efforts.
Hageman wants states to be able to sue each other over their abilities to carry out free and fair elections.
“If a state is violating their own laws and violating their Constitution then I think that maybe (that) is one of the only ways to hold them accountable,” Hageman said.
Bouchard, currently running a distant third in most polls, said the only poll that matters is on election day.
A recent Casper Star-Tribune poll showed Hageman with a 22-point lead over Cheney.
Hageman said she thinks this lead is too low of a projection “because people are fed up with Liz Cheney.” She said if a poll came out a week before the election showing her losing to Cheney, she would drop out.
“If the polls showed me losing one week before the primary and I knew that I wanted to beat Liz Cheney, yes, I would do that (stay in the race) to protect my state of Wyoming,” she said.
Bellinskey, a longshot candidate who has not declared any financial contributions for her campaign, delivered a passionate closing statement.
“It’s not that ‘R’ and ‘D’ anymore, behind that name on a ballot. It’s about who’s going to step forward and represent you, me,” she said.