In recent years the state legislature has seen an increase in conservative Republicans who are focusing more on personal rights and freedoms. Those rights range from removing federal restrictions on gun laws, to voting against anything that might resemble a tax. They’ve had mixed success with this approach, but they see their role in the state legislature as important. But others wonder if they’re consistent. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports from Cheyenne…
CALE CASE: I’ve tried to keep peoples liberty in the forefront of my thinking and I hope I’ve been able to do that. It’s something I think about every day.”
BOB BECK: That’s State Senator Cale Case of Lander. The Republican has served in the legislature for 20 years. Case is extremely fiscally conservative and is not a big fan of laws in general…
CASE: I cast a lot of no votes and that’s because I believe that what we’re doing is either unnecessary or interferes with decisions that really ought to be left privately with individuals.
BECK: Many Republicans are cautious when it comes to legislation, but Case needs to be completely sold before he votes for something. It appears that Case will stray from his thinking when it comes to the occasional civil rights or environmental cause, but his standard is to do what’s best for the state as whole. Over in the House of Representatives sits Kendall Kroeker. The 39 year-old from Evansville is in his second term in the House and has quickly established himself as one of the growing number of young conservative voices that have been elected in recent years. Kroeker owns a Motorcycle dealership, so he’s worried about laws that impact small businesses. But he says the primary reason he’s in the legislature is to protect individual freedoms, so if he’s in doubt, he takes a page out of Case’s book…
KENDALL KROEKER: We as a body try to take it upon ourselves to protect everybody from every harm that will be out there. And a lot times that’s just not possible, the intentions are good, but all that results is really less freedom and less liberty. And so I’ve always been of the opinion…if I’m not completely sure on a bill and I’m in doubt, I always vote no, because I figure if it’s a good idea we can revisit it again.
BECK: But some wonder if Kroeker isn’t a hypocrite. For instance he has voted for bills that would take away rights from gays and lesbians and this session he sponsored a bill that would declare an abortion illegal if a heartbeat could be detected from the fetus.
KROEKER: Like with the abortion issue I believe that a fetus is a human life and therefore is entitled to the same protection under law you know, as somebody else, so protecting the life of the unborn to me is just as important as protecting the life and rights of the born.
BECK: But Recluse Representative Sue Wallis says that’s crazy.
SUE WALLIS: Freedom is freedom. I don’t want government in my business, I don’t want them necessarily overstepping their bounds in my community, and I damn sure don’t want them overstepping their bounds an invading my personal space or my neighbors personal space and trying to force their view on how the world should be on me or anybody else.
BECK : Wallis strongly opposed Kroeker’s abortion bill and was a co-sponsor of legislation that would allow both gay marriage and recognize domestic partnerships in the state. But she is far from liberal. As she stands in the hallway outside the House of Representatives she points out that she is very fiscally conservative, she has fought for years to deregulate small food vendors and she’s strong on gun rights. In other words, there are days you will really be with her…or really against her.
WALLIS : And my hate mail and fan mail will prove that. (laughs)
BECK: But Wallis believes she is very consistent and it frustrates her when fellow conservatives think it’s ok to meddle in people’s lives one day and not the next day. Another person who gets frustrated is Dan Neal of the Equality State Policy Center. They strongly support traditionally liberal legislation. Neal says the anti-government approach has cost the state chances to improve health care, and public safety.
Dan NEAL : You know workplace safety is a classic one. Where we’ve insisted that this state’s horrible fatality rate could be reduced by a greater commitment to enforcement. But they’ll say no, we can’t have a greater intrusion on business.
BECK: Neal also ridicules the anti-government rhetoric when he notes that the state gets millions in federal money for roads, education and health care.
Lyman Republican Allen Jaggi smiles and says Neal’s point is a good one. Jaggi has served for six years and has dedicated himself to removing federal and state gun regulations. He agrees that the state enjoys too many federal handouts and blames them for their hypocrisy.
ALLEN JAGGI: But I think we are a little bit hypocritical, just exactly what you are pointing out. My solution is let’s get away from taking federal money. But of course I don’t think the will of the legislature and the governor is to stop taking that federal money because that would hurt our spending.
Beck: Back in the Senate Cale Case is mulling a recent vote where the Senate defeated a bill that would have banned discrimination in the workplace against same sex couples. He says true conservatives should support that type of legislation, because it restores freedoms for more citizens. But Case says the fact that the bill hit the floor is a good sign.
CASE: Absolutely and I think it’s stunning. You know, there were bills to deprive people of rights and opportunity before. Now we are seeing…let’s put in our law that we are not going to discriminate. I think that’s really healthy. It’s gonna be a good thing, it’s all gonna be ok.
Beck: Case says citizens are way ahead of their legislators on these issues, so they just need to catch up. And he thinks legislators will catch up soon. For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Bob Beck.