Wyoming and its politicians boast a long history of conservative values. Protection of state’s rights, the Second Amendment and small government typically top the list of priorities for those seeking public office here.
Wyoming has also — in the past — avoided putting party above all else. Of the state’s last 10 governors, five were Democrats. Party affiliation didn’t matter as much as the integrity of a person, the willingness to work with others and the ability to meet a constituent eye-to-eye and disagree but still earn respect.
In the last two election cycles, though, a seismic shift occurred. All of a sudden, party matters. It matters whether a candidate for office is “conservative” enough. There are even groups out there that grade legislators on just that metric.
Listening to the debate last week at the Sheridan County Republican Party’s Central Committee meeting highlighted that change. The debate centered around whether U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney should be censured for her vote to impeach President Donald Trump. Several who spoke at that event said they had moved to Wyoming to “escape” the liberalism of other states. They emphasized the need to “protect” Wyoming from any such invasion or perversion of thought.
Many of those speakers, though, would do well to crack open a history book.
Recent evidence aside, Wyoming has a history of “liberal” tendencies. Wyoming became the first state where women’s right to vote was acknowledged. It’s the first state where a national park and a national forest were established. Its Ninth Territorial Assembly passed what is believed to be the first county library law in the country — establishing a public library system. In 2005 — that’s right, just 15 years ago — Wyoming even established a state-funded scholarship for which every Wyoming middle and high school student is automatically eligible. All they have to do is maintain a certain GPA, test scores and class requirements.
Equal rights, conservation, free libraries and government funding for residents to attend college — if a candidate used those concepts as a campaign platform today, many would hurl accusations of “liberalism.”
While the tactics of mockery, insults and discourtesy seen in some recent political discourse inspire little respect, the desire of some factions within the state to “protect” Wyoming’s political history aren’t without merit. Those individuals and groups, though, must understand the full, broad spectrum of Wyoming history and values rather than the few chosen as checkmarks on lists of talking points.
While imperfect in its efforts, Wyoming has historically sought to do right by its people, not a party. That’s an effort worth protecting.