The chairman of the Wyoming Democratic Party isn’t concerned by criticisms of “woke culture” made by many Wyoming conservatives.
In fact, Joe Barbuto said he’s “proud to be woke” and that he’ll take the criticism because, “I’d rather have my eyes wide open.
“I’m proud to be woke and I’m proud to be a member of the party that understands being comfortable with that.”
Barbuto didn’t mince words during his speech at the party’s annual Nellie Tayloe Ross Dinner on Saturday in Cheyenne, going after Wyoming’s congressional delegation, Gov. Mark Gordon and the Wyoming Freedom Caucus for what he believes is their misguided war on “woke culture.”
Not Representing ‘Woke’
Woke is a term that has many definitions, but on the political front most commonly described by its supporters as being alert to racial prejudice and discrimination. Those who don’t buy into the term “woke” say it denotes an over-sensitivity to political correctness.
Barbuto has a slightly broader definition, saying woke means to be aware of current realities facing American culture, a viewpoint he believes many Republicans in Wyoming fall short of realizing.
During Saturday’s event, the party played a taped video address not from one of the state’s elected representatives, but from U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colorado.
Wyoming Dems Have No Representation
Barbuto told Cowboy State Daily that in many ways, Neguse represents Wyoming Democrats more effectively than their own federal delegation of U.S. Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis and Rep. Harriet Hageman.
Hageman recently announced she is a member of the new House Anti-Woke Caucus.
He described them as, “A trio who seem to be more interested in Fox News cameras, the big industries that build our coffers and fighting culture battles instead of the real issues facing the people they’re supposed to be representing.”
Barbuto also criticized Gordon, saying he doesn’t please any group of voters.
The Wyoming Democratic Party was highly critical of Gordon in March for letting bills pass into law that prohibit transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports and two measures restricting abortion in Wyoming.
Some Republicans also criticized Gordon for taking weeks to take action on these bills and letting two of the three pass into law without his signature.
“We have a governor whose greatest accomplishment seems to be being nobody’s champion instead of anybody’s or everybody’s,” Barbuto said.
He also went after the Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a bloc of hardline conservative lawmakers in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
“Freedom from what exactly? Decency? Reality? Freedom from logic?” Barbuto questioned rhetorically.
Barbuto, who’s on the husky side, said if people are going to start assigning terms to their political groups as they see fit, he’d “like to be known as the diet and exercise king of Wyoming.”
Big Tent Approach
A common complaint levied by many conservative Republicans is there are too many members of their party not adhering to the party’s platform, and also too many members not being truthful or transparent about their voting records.
Barbuto disagrees, saying Republican leaders are honest about who they are by their ongoing support for former President Donald Trump.
“Despite all this, despite the lies, the impeachment, the 2020 Democratic victory, the attacks on democracy and complete disregard for rule of law, too many Republicans still fawn at his feet,” he said.
Barbuto is open to broadening his party’s membership and beliefs, saying it needs to take a “big tent” approach.
The Wyoming Democratic Party makes up about 25% of the state’s voters based on the results of the last few election cycles. The party has been losing voters precipitously for at least the last 15 years.
Historically, Democrats were much more competitive in Wyoming, winning governorships on a somewhat frequent basis and nearly half the state Legislature seats.
But those days are in the distant past, as the party hasn’t won a statewide election since 2006.
“It doesn’t matter if the road outside your house is dirt or asphalt, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is, we love which pronouns you use,” he said. “We want you to be a part of this effort, even if you’re not a Democrat.”
Barbuto said he was recently asked if it’s a burdensome task to be a chair of the Democratic Party in deep-red Wyoming, a party whose presidential candidate lost to Trump by a larger margin than any other state in 2020, and holds a smaller percentage of Legislature seats than any other in the nation.
“I can hold my head high and I can look at my reflection in the mirror straight in the eye without hesitation knowing that I’m a Wyoming Democrat,” he said. “It’s not always easy and no party is perfect, but I want to be a member of the party that is fighting for democracy, giving voice to people that otherwise would go unheard and are a part of bringing empathy, compassion and youthfulness in politics.”