Featuring our new 2015-2016 Legislator Culture War Index
If you are new to our organization, please click on the tabs above to learn more about CROW’s mission “to inform, unite, recruit and elect conservative leaders for Wyoming.”
More importantly, read about CROW’s 12 Foundational Conservative Principles, which comprise the objective standard by which we measure all political candidates and public officials.
Our latest offering is a Culture War Index Table of the 63rd Wyoming Legislature –wherein each Wyoming Legislator has been placed into their chosen (though not always admitted) ideological context based upon an analysis of how they voted on 25 of the most polarizing bills and resolutions brought to a vote during the 2015 and 2016 Legislative sessions.
In previous election years, CROW has relied upon voluntary surveys of Republican primary candidates in order to better inform voters. But many candidates have been proven very wary of making their true beliefs known. As you may suspect, many of Wyoming’s political aspirants are Republicans-In-Name-Only (RINOs) who substantially disagree with the platform of the Wyoming GOP. Many even prefer the Democrat platform, as our analysis will show.
In 2012, CROW asked Wyoming’s legislative Republican candidates whether they agreed or disagreed with our 12 Conservative Principles, as seen here: 2012 Candidate Survey. In 2014, all Republican contenders for legislative and other statewide offices were asked a more rigorous set of policy questions: 2014 Candidate Survey – Blank, which resulted in the interesting, albeit incomplete, set of responses found here: 2014 Candidate Survey Results.
This year, CROW is trying a different approach. Instead of attempting to persuade all Republican candidates who have filed for legislative office to complete a survey, we have reviewed the last two years of individual voting records in the Wyoming Legislature to determine how well (or how poorly) each Republican officeholder has honored the ideals of American conservatism.
The results can be found here: Culture War Index Table of the 63rd Wyoming Legislature
The thing that makes this a “Culture War Index” is that the 25 bills and resolutions we’ve selected were either attempts to defend the conservative principles upon which the American republic was founded, or they were attacks upon these principles.
Put another way, certain bills honor the permanent value of western civilization, Christian culture, and the conservative worldview that these valuable legacies have sustained throughout American history. Other bills are designed for precisely the opposite purpose: to eradicate our cultural inheritance in order to fill the void with leftist dogma and social engineering. In either case, these are the kinds of bills that show us what our legislators are made of, while giving us a glimpse into the state of their minds, and perhaps, their souls.
Bills that were muddled by lengthy amendments leading to substantial compromise were not considered. Bills that provoked bipartisan coalitions both for and against were also avoided, as these were either evidence that there was no consensus about what the bill really meant, or that no great principles were a stake—merely a squabble over the allocation of loot and influence in most cases.
The key to our analysis was to identify and consider a combination of the most plainly conservative bills and the most plainly liberal bills brought to the floor of at least one chamber in the last two years. As a result, these bills typically smoked out the same general coalitions of liberals and conservatives over and over again. The ideological significance and voting details of each of these bills are summarized here: 25 Polarizing Bills (2015-2016).
The vote tallies were gathered from “3rd reading” roll calls in one or both of the chambers (and sometimes, Budget Session introduction votes or Committee-of-the-Whole votes that ended up killing them.) In four cases, Senate concurrence votes prior to passage were used as best indicators of Senators’ intentions.
Of these 25 bills, 19 originated in the House; the other 6 originated in the Senate. A total of 24 of these were voted on by the House, while only 10 were voted on in the Senate. The one bill in this list not voted on by the House was SF129 (2015) – Medicaid Expansion – which died in the Senate. Because of the importance of this matter as a culture war wedge issue, the Senators’ votes on it were included in this study. (The House mirror bill HB245 (2015) was abandoned by House leadership after its failure in the Senate was assured.)
Of the 10 bills in our list that were voted on by both houses, 7 became law. (Three originated in the House and 4 originated in the senate.)
CULTURE WAR INDEX TABLE
The CROW/GOP position is depicted in red on the Culture War Index Table as either AYE or NO depending on the nature of the bill. In the same fashion, the Leftist/Democrat position is depicted in blue as either AYE or NO. Non-votes due to absence are depicted in white.
Red and blue also highlight the names of each legislator to indicate their self-declared party affiliation.
The yellow column on the left of the table contains “CROW Index” percentages indicating a useful estimate of how conservative a given legislator has proven to be. (Percentages are calculated as conservative votes cast divided by total votes cast, rounded to the nearest whole number.)
The death of one Representative and the resignation of one Senator in the past two years resulted in their partial voting records being considered adjacent to the partial voting records of their appointed replacements. Thus, instead of 60 records being considered for the House and 30 records being considered for the Senate, our table and calculations contain 61 and 31 voting records, respectively.
ANALYSIS OF RESULTS
The most notable conclusion to be drawn from this table is that a large portion of Republicans departed from conservative principles on a regular and largely predictable basis. Indeed, a considerable portion of Republicans voted on the liberal/Democrat side most of the time.
By contrast, NO Democrats voted with conservatives/Republicans most of the time. Few ever do so at all. Wyoming’s Democrats have a much stronger loyalty to their own party and its platform.
For purposes of generalization in this study, we can divide Wyoming’s lawmakers into three, equally broad categories as follows:
CONSERVATIVE (100% to 67% CROW Rating):
Donald Burkhardt, Jr.
Brian Boner (N/A – only one vote cast: conservative)
MODERATE/SQUISHY (66% to 34% CROW Rating):
J.D. Anderson (SD2)
LEFT LIBERAL (33% to 0% CROW Rating):
Michael Von Flatern
J.L. Anderson (SD28)
Jo Ann Dayton
Before proceeding, it should be noted that the CROW ratings of Senators shown above concentrate in the middle of ideological spectrum because of the smaller number of polarizing Culture War bills they have gone on record about. (House members are being rated on 24 Culture War bills, while Senate members are only being rated on 10.) Statistically, this can be misleading, as the most conservative and most liberal Senators alike both come across as looking more moderate than they are.
With this in mind, some very interesting conclusions can nevertheless be drawn from CROW’s findings:
All of this begs the question as to whether the ideological makeup of the legislature accurately reflects the will of Wyoming’s populace—especially in light of the fact that Wyoming’s people tend to self –describe as “conservative” in higher percentages than almost any other state in the union year after year. (Most years, Wyoming ranks as the most conservative state, or at least in the top three.)
Though Wyoming’s voters are conservative as a whole, they continue to lose the Culture War along with the rest of their countrymen—largely because our House of Representatives is moderate by comparison, our Senate is liberal by comparison, and a conservative governor has not been elected this century.
The reason that the Wyoming GOP is so ineffectual at accurately representing its own conservative majority is that its “tent” is too big. Because the Wyoming Republican Party and its county affiliates seldom vet their candidates or nominees for compatibility with their principles and platforms, (which is the primary function of a political party,) any liberal can register for office as a Republican in bad faith and receive the full backing of Wyoming GOP resources. And if elected, they can then pursue the destruction of conservative principles from within.
Exposing these liberal opportunists (RINOs) within the Republican Party who weaken its unity and regularly work to under-represent Wyoming’s conservative majority is one of the reasons CROW was formed.
BUT WHO’S A RINO?
This question will be left to the reader, with the caution that we are working with a small, less than ideal dataset. Many legislators have such long voting records that further analysis of other years yields greater certainty and even demonstrates ideological drift in one direction or the other (but usually to the left over time.)
For purposes of this Culture War analysis, it makes sense to simply ask: what percentage of the time does a Republican lawmaker have to vote AGAINST his own party and caucus to be defined as a RINO?
Clearly, Republicans scoring at 33% or below on the CROW index (who vote against the principles and platform of their own party 2 out of every 3 times,) can be defined as RINOs.
Leaving the 9 Democrats out, this means 9 RINOs in the House (17% of its Republican caucus.)
Leaving the 4 Democrats out, this means 7 RINOs in the Senate (26% of its Republican caucus.)
However, some would argue that this bar is too low in a culture war in which victory or defeat typically hinges on a simple majority in legislative votes. Thus, a strong case can be made that if a Republican votes against conservative principles and the platform of their own Party at least 50% of the time, they must necessarily be classed as a RINO who should be opposed by more conservative Republicans in primary elections. This leaves us with the following assessment of the 63rd Wyoming Legislature:
Leaving the 9 Democrats out, this means 21 RINOs in the House (40% of its Republican caucus.)
Leaving the 4 Democrats out, this means 21 RINOs in the Senate (78% of its Republican caucus!)
This may seem unfair, but is largely reflected in the very high failure rate of conservative bills. RINO legislators by this measure (who vote with Democrat legislators at least 50% of the time), are able to so magnify the power of the otherwise insignificant Wyoming Democrat Party that they often combine with it to balance out conservative Republican power in the House, while handily defeating conservative Republican power in the Senate:
9 Democrats plus 21 RINOs in the House = 30 of 61 (49% liberal vote victories in the House!)
4 Democrats plus 21 RINOs in the Senate = 25 of 31 (81% liberal vote victories in the Senate!)
Thus, so long as many of Wyoming’s Republican Party leaders insist upon maintaining a “big tent,” they will likewise maintain a very formidable “anti-conservative “firewall” in both houses of Wyoming’s Legislature.
WHY ELECTIONS MATTER
But it doesn’t stop there. There are at least 12 other anti-conservative firewalls preventing conservative reforms from taking place in Wyoming’s government, and they are all directly related to the predominance of liberal (rather than conservative) leaders and rule-making bureaucrats in Wyoming’s government institutions.
The vast majority of these decision-makers are elected or appointed by their peers, not the people. That is, government officials govern themselves by further empowering those who reflect and serve their own ideological majorities. Insofar as these liberal majorities are sustained and replenished by the empowerment of RINO candidates in primary and general elections, with the eager cooperation of both Democrat legislative caucuses, all of these anti-conservative firewalls can be expected to remain.
In response, the best way that Wyoming’s conservative majority can make itself more proportionately represented is to elect more conservative Republicans. And the best way that the leadership of the Wyoming Republican Party can promote this is to subordinate their longstanding maintenance of a “big tent” party to the imperative of creating an effectively conservative party. They can’t have both, and so they must choose.
It wouldn’t take many additional conservatives elected to the Wyoming government to set in motion a near-complete overthrow and replacement of its liberal leadership elites and appointees with conservative Republicans. RINOs and self-described moderates are typically followers by temperament; they will vote more conservatively as soon as their leaders become more conservative.
But before concluding with an APPENDIX illustrating how individual legislators relate to various majority votes of their colleagues, it is worth briefly outlining some of the many anti-conservative firewalls in state government that could be brought down as a result of more conservative leadership:
Anti-conservative firewall #1 – Legislative Leadership – Following the general election every two years, all of the elected Republican Representatives and Senators caucus separately to elect their leaders for the coming two-year session. (Democrats do the same, but as the majority party, the Republicans also get to empower the House Speaker and Senate President.) Here is the breakdown of Republican leadership and their CROW ratings for the 63rd Legislature:
Speaker – Kermit Brown (48%) President – Phil Nicholas (30%)
Majority Floor Leader – Rosie Berger(17%) Majority Floor Leader – Eli Bebout(60%)
Speaker Pro Tem – Tim Stubson (50%) Vice President – Drew Perkins(40%)
Majority Whip – Hans Hunt(71%)
Thus, House leaders cumulatively index as 47% conservative, while the Senate leaders average together as 43% conservative.
The votes to elect these leaders in caucus are kept secret, but they are often very close (by one or two votes.) Unfortunately, conservative nominees are usually defeated.
Why? There is a strong pressure to keep the tradition of promoting each leader up the line like clockwork. (For example, unless conservatives resist this practice, Rosie Berger (17%) will become House Speaker for the 64th Legislature and can reasonably be expected to agree with Democrats on culture war issues 83% of the time!) This is very likely to happen, as long as newly elected legislators (often about 1/4th to 1/3rd of the caucus) continue to arrive at their first caucus knowing very little of what is going on, and thereby vote to promote the existing leaders rather than conservative insurgents they know less about.
For example, to reach a Republican caucus majority in the House of the 63rd Legislature would require 26 votes out of 51, and if we average the CROW index for the 26 most conservative members, we get 86% conservative. Plainly, none of the elected leaders presently in the House have lived up to that standard, and only one (Hunt) exceeded the standard of all House Republicans averaged together (68% conservative/32% liberal.)
By contrast, to reach a Republican caucus majority in the Senate of the 63rd Legislature would require 14 votes out of 26, and if we average the CROW index for the 14 most conservative members, we get 55% conservative. In this case, one elected leader in the Senate (Bebout) exceeded this standard and remained the only leader to exceed the standard of all Senate Republicans averaged together (44% conservative/56% liberal.)
House and Senate leadership has the absolute power to ignore any bill it does not want heard, and to kill any bill overwhelmingly passed by the other chamber. And so long as these bodies are disproportionately dominated by RINOs allied with Democrats, conservative legislation will be disproportionately denied introduction. Examples of conservative bills meeting this fate are as follows:
In 2016, House leadership refused to consider HB70 – (Abortion amendments), and HB121 – (Reporting of abortions), and HB142 (Transfer of federal lands.)
In 2015, Senate Leadership refused to consider HJ10 – (Joint Resolution to recognize the importance of the Magna Carta) even though it passed the house 46 to 13!
In 2016, Senate leadership refused to consider HB86 (Wyoming repeal Gun Free Zones Act) even though it passed the House by 50 to 10!
Also in 2016, Senate leadership refused to consider HB47 (Refugee resettlement plan accountability) even though it passed the House by 51 to 9!
Obviously, if these and other conservative bills had received fair hearings and introduction votes we would have more data by which to score legislators (especially Senators.)
Anti-conservative firewall #2 – The Management Council – This body literally manages the Legislature, from priorities to budgets to furniture to staff to supplies. It consists of the Senate President and House Speaker who appoint 11 other members, 5 of whom are Democrats. This is an outrage. As the 90 member 63rd Legislature contains only 13 Democrats (14% of the whole), it would be fair to grant Democrats only 2 posts on the Management Council (15% of 13)—rather than 5 posts, which amounts to 38% and nearly triples Democrat influence. If this isn’t bad enough, the leaders of the Council have also packed it with mostly liberal Republicans, leaving the cumulative average of the 13 members a paltry 27% conservative.
Anti-conservative firewall #3 – The Rules Committee – This is also created and presided over by top legislative leaders. Its job is to interpret Legislative rules and policies, settle disputes and even to create new rules and policies. Its 18 members only average 37% conservative.
Anti-conservative firewall #4 – The Legislative Service Office (LSO) – is basically a stable of lawyers, paralegals and policy specialists created in 1971 to write bills for legislators in a standardized format. It was officially established to be “non-partisan,” but few conservative legislators have ever believed this. They consider it to lean quite liberal, and to be very inclined toward coziness with liberal governors and legislative leaders. While it’s impossible to quantify, anecdotal evidence abounds about conservative bills being poorly crafted, contrary to their bringers’ intent, and bearing fatal, inbuilt flaws ready to be exploited by their opponents. LSO is overseen by the Legislature’s Management Council (which, as we’ve shown, needlessly exaggerates Democrat clout and only rates 27% conservative as a whole.) Perhaps the simplest antidote to bad LSO bills would be for conservatives to create an independent council of conservative legal experts to review and improve LSO’s work.
Anti-conservative firewall #5 – Standing Committee Chairmanships – The leaders of the House and Senate are solely empowered to appoint the Chairmen of each of their 10 standing committees set up to consider bills. The 10 House committee chairs of the 63rd legislature averaged together rate 46% conservative. In the Senate, the 10 chairs average 48% conservative.
Leadership assigns bills that have successfully passed Committee of the Whole to the Committees most in line with their subject matter. Except in rare cases of a very skewed distribution of bill subjects, it is a dead giveaway that leadership is up to something when they assign a bill with one type of subject matter to a committee dedicated to bills of different subject matter.
(Some committees are carefully packed with conservative members (usually to isolate them) while other committees are carefully packed with liberal members (to assure approval of even the most liberal bills and death of the more conservative bills.) These are commonly known as “super-committees.”) But regardless, leadership is generally well aware of what committees will pass which bills based on knowledge of their members. Examples of these anti-conservative tactics follow:
In the House, the Appropriations Committee was illogically assigned the following bills, which it dutifully disposed of:
In 2015, HB234 – (To make the Wyoming Attorney general an elected official), and HB133 – (United Nations Agenda 21 – prohibition on implementation) were buried in Appropriations without a vote.
Also in 2015, HB131 – (Change in Party Affiliation (to make it more difficult for Democrats to vote in Republican primaries)) was killed by a 5 to 2 vote. HB156 – (Abortion-ultrasound information) was killed by a 3 to 6 vote. And HB189 – (Federal funds task force) was killed by a 0 to 7 vote.
Perhaps the most egregious example of Committee skullduggery was to be found in the anti-reform House Education Committee (chaired first by John Patton (36%) and then by David Northrup (38%.))
In 2015, this pro-Teachers’ Union committee killed the following important conservative education reforms without so much as a hearing or vote: HB164 – (Student data privacy); HB221 – (Education – parental rights); HB226 – (State board of education-members (making them elected rather than appointed.)
(It also predictably killed HB196 – (Civics proficiency examination) by a vote of 3-6)
Anti-conservative firewall #6 – Reconsideration – If a bill near and dear to legislative leadership fails a vote by a narrow margin, said leadership can simply exert their will upon pliable and/or beholden committee chairs and members to call for reconsideration. This means they get to call for the vote again (essentially a “legislative mulligan”) to get a favorable result. And of course, so long as liberals continue to dominate legislative leadership, reconsideration can only work toward the benefit of liberal political agendas.
Anti-conservative firewall #7 – Gubernatorial Veto – The chief executive can veto any bill or any line item in the budget that is passed by the Legislature. Again, so long as Wyoming goes without a conservative governor, no conservative bills or budget items are safe from this tactic.
Anti-conservative firewall #8 – Refusal to Override Gubernatorial Veto – Of course, the legislature can override a gubernatorial veto—provided both houses can do so by two-thirds votes. Sometimes bills are passed by less, allowing the governor to know he can get away with a veto. But even if a bill is passed by more than two-thirds (or even unanimously), a liberal governor may well be able to count on liberal legislative leadership to simply refuse to allow a vote on an override of his veto.
Anti-conservative firewall #9 – Wyoming Supreme Court – This third branch of government can override any legislation its majority dislikes for any reason. The longer liberal governors continue to be elected in Wyoming, the more liberal justices will be appointed to this court.
Anti-conservative firewall #10 – Gubernatorial Executive Orders – Liberal chief executives can dream up all kinds of liberal executive orders overnight, knowing that the other branches cannot act (or react) with similar alacrity.
Anti-conservative firewall #11 – Executive appointments and rulemaking – Liberal chief executives can pack their agencies with beholden cronies and empower them to create and enforce every kind of bureaucratic edict completely sheltered from public or legislative oversight.
Anti-conservative firewall #12 – Appointed Boards and Commissions – Liberal chief executives can pack the many boards and commissions of Wyoming state government with beholden cronies who will be obliged to deliver the outcomes they are tasked with achieving.
Thus, the more liberal and/or corrupt elected Wyoming’s elected and appointed leaders become, the more liberal and corrupt Wyoming’s policies and government can be expected to become.
If the Wyoming Republican Party were to pay closer attention to vetting, recruiting and elected truly conservative candidates in the service of its platform and the defense of conservative American principles, the anti-conservative firewalls described above could be rapidly reversed and transformed into anti-liberal firewalls—all to the betterment of Wyoming’s government and its people.
The thing most obviously lacking at present is the political will to repudiate “big tent” politics. Good politics is not the choice of “addition rather than subtraction;” good politics is about persuasion rather than surrender, and the superiority of conversion over compromise. Courageous leadership has the power to foster this—not merely to move voters, but to move them in the right direction.
Good politics combined with courageous leadership is the proven formula for inspiring others to repudiate the false dilemma about whether to “vote for the person or the party”—and to replace it with the moral imperative of voting for sound principle above all.
Additional food for thought can be found here: Gerard’s Party Affinity Tables (2013-2016)
Whereas CROW’s Culture War Index analysis can be described as an “absolute” comparison of legislators because each is being rated by their response (for or against) fixed conservative principles, a good example of a “relative” comparison of legislators has been kindly provided by software designer Douglas Gerard of Gillette.
Instead of comparing legislators to fixed principles, Mr. Gerard compares legislators to one another. More specifically, he rates them on how often they vote with or against their fellow legislators according to political party.
In doing so, Mr. Gerard catalogues ALL recorded votes (including introduction votes, standing committee votes, committee of the whole votes, second and third reading, concurrence votes, etc.), in order to establish the broadest possible measure of each individual’s inclination toward conformity or noncomformity with regard to the prevailing majorities of each party.
What results from this are tables with four quadrants, where ideological tendencies become more pronounced with increasing distance from the center point. Republicans fall into all four quadrants; Democrats are missing in three, as discussed below:
Quadrant 1 (North West): HIGH agreement with Democrat majorities and LOW agreement with Republican majorities. (This is the only place where Democrat Legislators can be found, proving that these Democrats are both hyper-partisan and redundant. Numerous Republicans also earn a place in this quadrant, identifying themselves as RINOs by definition. These are solid left-liberals; progressive by instinct, ideology and aspiration.)
Quadrant 2 (North East): HIGH agreement with majorities of both parties. (These are the most conformist and least ideological legislators, instinctive pragmatists who would rather side with the winners than stand on principle. These are ideologically moderate and easily persuaded.)
Quadrant 3 (South East): HIGH agreement with Republican majorities and LOW agreement with Democrat majorities. (These are the most partisan Republicans. They view the congruence of conservative principles and the Republican platform to be more of a reality than an ideal. These are instinctively conservative, but can be very pragmatic in the interests of their party.)
Quadrant 4 (South West): LOW agreement with majorities of both parties. (These are the least partisan, most ideologically consistent conservatives, with an admixture of libertarians and other contrarians. They view the congruence of conservative principles and the Republican platform to be an ideal that needs work to become reality. These conservatives value vigilance over pragmatic innovation and are seldom persuaded by appeals to passion or ad populum arguments.)
Readers can draw other conclusions about these tables, but their usefulness in gauging the general temperament of legislators in practice should be recognized.