In Wyoming and Washington, a Fractured GOP Ponders What Comes Next (Part 4)

As state lawmakers bicker, D.C. delegation is not immune to intra-party critiques

  • Published In: Politics
  • Last Updated: Apr 02, 2023

Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) made waves by criticizing Wyoming Speaker of the House Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) for his decision to keep some controversial bills in his drawer during the 2023 General Session. (Francis Chung/POLITICO via AP Images)

By Jacob Gardenswartz

Special to the Wyoming Truth

Here is the final story in the Wyoming Truth’s four-part series reflecting on the political debates central to this year’s general session and exploring what’s to come for Wyomingites at home and in Washington. Check out parts one, two and three.


Speaking with the Wyoming Truth and other Equality State media outlets last week, U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said she’d likely stay “neutral” in the 2024 Republican Primary (Wyoming Truth photo by Jacob Gardenswartz via Zoom)

Despite living in the nation’s least-populated state, Wyomingites following policy debates in Washington have seen many home-state issues prioritized by Republican party leaders of late.

Since retaking the U.S. House majority earlier this year, Republicans have pushed through bills to increase oil and gas leasing on federal lands, block President Joe Biden from selling oil reserves to China, restrict doctors’ ability to perform abortions and eliminate COVID-19 vaccine mandates for health care workers — all issues central to political debates in Wyoming.

This week, House lawmakers passed House Resolution 1, a symbolic designation given to a single piece of legislation in each Congress symbolizing the top policy priority of that chamber’s leadership. Last session’s version focused on expanding voting rights, enacting campaign finance reform and requiring the president to release his tax returns — reflecting key priorities of the then-Democratic House.

This time around, H.R. 1 encompassed a series of policies intended to boost domestic energy production. In a statement introducing the measure, House Speaker Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) drew on Wyoming rhetoric in promising the bill would “show the country how to end the war on American energy, become energy independent again and lower costs for hard-working families who are struggling under the weight of President Biden’s radical agenda.”

Included in the package was a measure sponsored by Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyo.) to boost domestic coal production, which comes as Wyoming’s largest utility announced late last week it would phase out its coal use in the coming years

But while many Wyomingites may be glad such issues are receiving a national platform, others are less-than-pleased with how national figures have inserted themselves in local political debates. Back in Washington, meanwhile, some are fretting about their reelection prospects and the party’s chances in 2024.

Hageman’s input on Sommers’ move draws ire 

Amid the national furor over Speaker of the House Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale)’s refusal to allow debate on several bills backed by the Wyoming Freedom Caucus,  Hageman turned heads when she jumped into the debate, calling on state lawmakers to take up the stalled bills.

Hageman has close ties to those pushing hardest for the measures. Jessie Rubino, Wyoming state director of the State Freedom Caucus Network, previously served as a “grassroots leader” for Hageman’s 2022 congressional campaign and is married to her  nephew.

Responding to Hageman’s tweeted criticisms, state Rep. Landon Brown (R-Cheyenne) shot back that she should “stay in her lane”: “If she wants to have a say in our legislative body maybe she should run for that office. Otherwise, bugoff!” Brown wrote.

Former Wyoming Sen. Al Simpson, a moderate, described Hageman’s comments as “an egregious overstep,” but  both he and Brown soon came under fire. Hageman, for her part, clapped back at Brown, calling him “a living argument for allowing only Republicans to vote in Republican primaries.”

In an interview with the Wyoming Truth, Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) was careful not to criticize Hageman directly. However, Lummis, who is a former state representative, recalled that “when our congressional delegation would weigh in from Washington on the work of the Wyoming Legislature at the time, it was not terribly welcomed.” 

“We gave each other great deference. That’s simply my approach,” Lummis added. “I don’t want to weigh in on how others interact or conduct their relationships between the Wyoming congressional delegation and the Wyoming Legislature … [but] when [lawmakers] become either the speaker of the house or the president of the senate, I believe it deserves real deference.”

Wyoming senators earn rebukes from home

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has come under fire from former President Donald Trump, who recently indicated that he would support a challenge to Barrasso. (Courtesy photo from Frank Fey/U.S. Senate Photographic Studio)

Then comes the issue of Wyoming’s U.S. senators’ standing back home. Despite their track record as being among the most conservative legislators in Washington, both have drawn the ire of conservatives for their votes — or lack thereof — on key matters.

During debates over government funding last December, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) came under fire for missing a series of procedural votes critics alleged might have enabled Republicans to decrease the size of the $1.7 trillion package. The senator noted in a statement he was with his wife as she received treatment for cancer at the time.

Barely a month later, former President Donald Trump lambasted Barrasso in a Wyoming radio interview as a “flunky” for Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Trump indicated openness to supporting right-wing challengers for Barrasso’s seat.

Lummis, for her part, earned rebuke from the Wyoming Republican Party for her vote to codify protections for same-sex and interracial marriages earlier this year.

In voting for the measure, Lummis “ignor[ed] the tenets of the Republican Party” and “plac[ed] her personal interests and beliefs above those of the constituents she serves,” the Party charged in a condemnation resolution

Lummis’s spokeswoman shot back that the Senator “stands by her vote.” But according to some, the saga demonstrates the state GOP’s eagerness to take on anyone seen as willing to compromise.

Jackie Van Mark, the longtime Wyomingite and Republican official who speaks of her disillusionment with the contemporary state party, noted censure amounts to something of a “badge of honor” among some Republicans in Wyoming these days. She said she’s nonetheless worried Lummis’s vote may well doom her reelection prospects.

“Compromise is key with the Constitution,” Van Mark told the Wyoming Truth. “But compromise in Wyoming, compromise in the Republican Party nationwide, is somewhat, dare I say, a ‘trigger word’ for some Republicans.”

Trump and 2024 loom large

Former President Donald Trump, seen speaking with at the July 2021 “Rally to Protect Our Elections” in Phoenix, remains a popular but polarizing figure in Wyoming. (Courtesy photo from Gage Skidmore/The Star News Network)

Looming over everything is the impending 2024 GOP presidential primary — a de facto referendum on Trumpism and the future of Republican politics.

Shortly after Trump announced his ‘24 candidacy, Hageman threw her support behind him, becoming just one of 34 sitting House lawmakers to endorse the former president. 

Lummis, however, has increasingly distanced herself from him. She told reporters in January she saw Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — not Trump — as the current “leader of the Republican Party,” comments she echoed in a press conference last week.

Asked about who she intended to support in 2024, Lummis highlighted her close ties to DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), both of whom are flirting with a presidential bid.

“My ranking Republican chairman of the banking committee [Scott] and my dear old friend from the House [DeSantis] are both mulling presidential runs,” Lummis noted. “I will likely be staying neutral in the primary and will end up supporting whoever emerges from the Republican primary.”

Barrasso has similarly dodged questions about endorsements, saying only that he will support the eventual GOP nominee.

After news of Trump’s indictment became public last week, Wyoming’s congressional delegation in Washington lashed out, describing the charges — the details of which have yet to be fully released — as “politically motivated.”

Hageman derided the prosecutor bringing the charges as “Soros-backed,” though there’s no evidence the Democratic donor ever directly supported the Manhattan District Attorney taking on Trump.

Such accusations were echoed by Lummis, who argued that “New York continues to be plagued by violent crime, so it begs the question why the Soros-funded DA is so focused on former President Trump?”

“This thing smells bad,” Lummis added.

“If it was anyone other than President Trump, a case like this would never be brought,” echoed Barrasso.

Among Republican voters, Trump remains broadly popular. A recent Harvard/Harris poll showed him leading the GOP primary race with 50% of the vote, with DeSantis trailing in second with 24% support.

Wyoming is by all accounts the “Trumpiest” state in the nation; voters supported Trump by a higher margin than did any other state in 2020.  Still, the former president’s actions on Jan. 6 — and threats of violence since — were a bridge too far for some. Despite voting for Trump in both 2016 and 2020, Van Mark said she can’t support him this time around.

“I’m so thankful that my father did not see what happened on Jan. 6,” she said. “He would have been spinning in his grave.”

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