One thing I love about Cowboy State Daily is that I learn something surprising every time I read it.
For example, I recently read a piece by one of my Republican colleagues where I learned that the Wyoming Freedom Caucus blocked the passage of property tax reform last session. He wrote, “The Freedom Caucus and the legislators that collaborate with the group are the reason we didn’t do more to solve the property tax dilemma.”
As a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, that was a surprise to me. I also respectfully disagree.
The problem was not that the Freedom Caucus stopped leadership and moderates from doing more on property tax reform. The problem came when the Freedom Caucus stopped them from doing less - as in less than what was needed. Less than what would keep retired seniors safe in their homes. Less than what our constituents tell us they desperately need.
You see, there are two kinds of property tax reform. One kind checks the political box and gets people off your back. The other kind actually makes a difference for Wyoming families and businesses, even if it makes things less comfortable for state government.
The Freedom Caucus was committed to real property tax reform that would challenge the status quo. Real reform might mean cutting some pet programs and reducing some pork.
The State of Wyoming might be forced to take a hard look at a few sacred cows. If we spend less, we may have to do less. That is the kind of property tax reform our voters have asked for, so that’s the kind we would support.
Property tax is insidious – it disproportionally penalizes people of modest means who have worked a lifetime to buy a home or a piece of land. Personally, I cannot think of a single good or service from state government that could ever be worth forcing an eighty-year-old widow on a fixed income out of her home.
The author wrote, “Any dollar of relief was better than none.” Again, I respectfully disagree. Token relief – like those bills that died – is an effort to fool the people of Wyoming into thinking we did something meaningful.
Since that piece blaming the Freedom Caucus for not passing property tax relief was published, I’ve had a chance to meet with quite a few folks who read it. I’ve asked some a hypothetical question: “If the Freedom Caucus had held a solid majority of the Wyoming House and Senate last session, do you believe we would have accomplished more, or less, on property tax reduction and reform?”
So far, no takers on “less.” Most people don’t believe for a minute that it is the Freedom Caucus blocking lower taxes, less spending, and more economic liberty.
But why limit this to property tax? How about school choice? I’ve heard from voters all over the state about the need for alternatives to our rapidly failing - and outrageously expensive - public education system.
So, here’s a variation of the question: “If the Freedom Caucus held a solid majority of the Wyoming House and Senate next session, do you believe the legislature would accomplish more, or less, toward school choice and education opportunity?”
Most voters I’ve spoken with since this past session are dismayed at our failure to fully close the door to male students competing in girls’ sports. We also failed to protect children – who cannot legally consent – from undergoing genital mutilation or dangerous hormone therapies.
So, here’s another: “If the Freedom Caucus held a solid majority in the Wyoming House and Senate next session, do you believe the legislature would accomplish more, or less, toward barring males from competing in girls’ sports and prohibiting gender reassignment therapies or surgeries on children?” That’s an easy one.
But let’s take it further - would a Freedom Caucus majority act more decisively to rein in eminent domain, a growing problem here in the Equality State? Would a Freedom Caucus majority unapologetically support Wyoming’s traditional industries, including ranching, timber, oil, gas and coal, in the face of so-called “climate crisis” and a world of virtue signaling? How do you think a Freedom Caucus majority would handle ESG, DEI and CRT - the unholy alphabet trinity of “Woke” - now infesting Wyoming’s institutions?
And would a strong Freedom Caucus majority do more, or less, to protect the innocent lives of the unborn?
I don’t want to attack my colleagues in either house, and I don’t expect them all to agree with me. But when I’ve stood for election, and when I listen to my own constituents and voters around the state, I get a very clear picture of what regular citizens want us to accomplish.
Property tax relief and reform, provisions for education choice, stopping the spread of gender and woke ideology in Wyoming, reining in eminent domain, and protecting life, rank at the top again and again. When we are away from the Capitol and not in session, those priorities are crystal clear.
It's only when January comes and we convene in the Capitol that those clear priorities suddenly become clouded. Once we enter the Capitol, some other set of priorities arises to override the will of the People.
For my part, I will remain true to what I hear on front porches, in the grocery store and at the Town Hall meeting; that is what I bring with me into the session.
Sometimes it frustrates me that the Freedom Caucus does not hold a strong majority. The real question is, does it frustrate Wyoming voters? If so, what are they willing to do about it? Whatever it is may surprise all of us one day, right here in The Cowboy State Daily.
Rep. Chip Neiman, Hulett, is the Majority Floor Leader in the Wyoming House.