by Charles Curley
Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise
For those who don’t follow elections closely, last Tuesday was Wyoming’s primary election. Most years most people, including the politically astute, would yawn and go back to watching Game of Thrones. Not so much this year.
This year the contest to watch was the race for Wyoming’s sole U.S. House seat. The incumbent was Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney (R-Deep State), and neo-con war monger in the State Department in her own right.
She had several challengers, but the one that mattered was Harriet Hagemen, long time Cheyenne land and water rights attorney. Hageman’s family is rooted in Wyoming, which fact she played up in her campaign. Her winning record as a land and water attorney is well known to farmers and ranchers state wide. She has gone to bat for farmers, ranchers, miners, oil men and others, usually against the federal government, and she has usually won. She started her college career at Casper College, on a livestock judging scholarship. (How Wyoming can you get?) Since 2019, Hageman has worked as Senior Litigation Counsel for the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a public interest law firm that takes on the federal bureaucracy — and wins.
Cheney, meanwhile, followed her father’s peripatetic life style, and was educated in Virginia, Colorado and Chicago. (Ask her some time about being a Republican poll watcher in a Chicago election.) She followed that with various State Department appointments interspersed with work on various Republican presidential campaigns.
Cheney’s political career always felt a bit “silver spoon”, like she was entitled to it. Her first move in Wyoming politics was to run in 2014 for what she thought was going to be an open seat: Mike Enzi’s U.S. Senate seat. (There’s nothing like starting humbly, say as a precinct committeewoman.) Enzi, his wife Diane and his Chief of Staff, Flip McConnaghy, were all looking forward to Enzi’s retirement, leaving a nice open seat. Then Cheney announced her candidacy. I was not privy to what decisions were made or how in the Enzi camp, but Enzi did not announce his retirement. Cheney withdrew from the race in January of 2014, citing family health issues, and Enzi went on to re-election with 72% of the vote in the general election.
Two years later, she got an open seat, with Cynthia Lummis’ retirement from the House after eight years. That she won and has held ever since.
This comes back to a key issue Hageman hammered on the campaign trail: Hageman’s experience in land and water law working for ranchers and farmers is much closer to the kind of representation Wyoming needs than State Department foreign affairs appointments. Don’t get me wrong, Wyomingites watch the outside world warily — but keeping federal bureaucrats out of their hair comes first. Hageman has said that she will ask for the Natural Resources Committee (which oversees two federal land agencies that between them own half of Wyoming’s surface estate) and the Oversight Committee (which rides herd on the bureaucracy).
In 2018, Hageman ran for governor, in a classic Wyoming state-wide election. There was one liberal candidate, Wyoming Treasurer Mark Gordon, and several conservative candidates. Gordon won the primary with 33% of the vote. Hageman, Foster Friess, Taylor Haynes and several others split the rest. That’s similar to how Gordon’s predecessor, Matt Mead, won in 2010. The formula is very simple: One liberal gets all the liberal vote, while several conservatives commit fratricide. And the stupid conservatives fall for it every time, tripping over their egos and their penises as they went.
So why didn’t that happen in the 2022 US House election? In short, Donald Trump. In September of 2021, there was a slew of conservative Republican candidates for the U.S. House. Most of them agreed that if Trump endorsed one of them, the rest would drop out. Trump endorsed Hageman. And most of the rest were as good as their word.
Trump won Wyoming in 2016 with 68% of the vote, 2020 with 70%. In the Wyoming Republican Party, what Trump says, goes.
Also, Cheney voted to impeach Trump, accepted Speaker Pelosi’s appointment to the January 6 Select Committee,. and voted for Biden’s gun control bill. Even Wyoming’s Democrats aren’t that stupid. Wyoming Democrats are more pro-gun than a lot of coastal Republicans.
The result has been a Nantucket sleigh ride of a campaign. I have been county captain for Hageman in one of the smaller counties. I personally put up about a hundred lawn signs, which is more than I have put up in any campaign since I left college. I’ve had strangers stop me on the street and ask for lawn signs. I have never had that happen before. I’ve had people from other counties asking for signs. Several times I went to the Republican County Central Committee meeting and gave away all the signs I had. I helped organize sign logistics in a six county area because I could do it better than the official campaign could. And I met a lot of very dedicated and very ticked off activists while doing it.
Statewide, the vote has been overwhelming: Hageman got 66% of the (unofficial) statewide vote. That’s 37% more than Cheney got, a massive win for a challenger to an incumbent. Hageman lost (to Cheney) in only two of 23 counties: Teton (I.e. Jackson: rich liberal playground, and heavily democratic) and Albany (University of Wyoming). As noted, Wyoming is a heavily Republican state. But!
Much of the vote that Cheney got was cross-over votes. Democrats and unaffiliated voters can register Republican on the way in, voting in the Republican primary, and re-register on the way out. The total vote for U.S. House in the Republican primary was 171,964. In 2018, the last non-presidential election, the total vote for U.S. House on the Republican side was 118,101. Some of that increase was more voter participation. Much of it was a massive cross-over to vote for Cheney, encouraged by both the Cheney campaign and the state Democrat Party. Those people will vote for anyone (anything?) not endorsed by Trump in the general election. And watch for massive spending on behalf of the Democrat nominee (Lynnette Greybull, in case you’re wondering), who got a total of 4503 votes statewide. It ain’t over yet.
Is it worth it? Well, come January we will evict a well-known warmonger from the US. House, no mean feat. Cheney may be down for the moment. Do not count her out. She could go back to her past deep state appointments, or back to being a commentator for the media. And she may run for the Republican nomination for President in 2024, directly against Trump. Would she win? Maybe, maybe not. Or maybe join the Forward Party? But she’d do a lot of damage in the process.
I think it’s worth it for other reasons. I mentioned committee assignments.
There is also the question of constituent communications. Wyoming is a small state, smaller than a California Senate district. Wyoming politics, as Mike Enzi has said more than once, is retail. Wyoming, Enzi explained, expects its federal delegation to be in the state on most weekends, explaining itself. Hageman has said multiple times she will be home most weekends, explaining herself.
I live in a small county, even by Wyoming standards, a county not high in electoral priority. From September, 2021, when Hageman announced, until the primary election, Hageman was in the county at a public event at least five times. Cheney: 0. Hageman carried the county with 75% of the vote.
There’s another reason, a very personal reason, which you may not find convincing. I have mentioned elsewhere that I am a big fan of the rule of law. Hageman mentioned these things in her victory speech. But that isn’t just political noise. I’ve dined with Hageman and family members, some of whom are also lawyers. Phrases like “rule of law”, “due process”, and “innocent until proved guilty” are dinner conversation material in her family. She means it. And that is the main reason I think it’s worth all the work.
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