By Joel Funk
Wyoming Tribune Eagle
Via Wyoming News Exchange
CHEYENNE –- As she heads into her first bid for re-election, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., will be touting Republicans’ efforts in Washington, D.C., to push back against what she deemed “a war on the West” waged by the previous administration.
Cheney was first elected in 2016 when she overcame eight primary opponents and then routed Democrat Ryan Greene. Attempts to accuse her of being a carpetbagger fell flat with Wyoming voters who evidently were won over by Cheney’s stalwart conservatism.
In the last year and a half, Cheney has been a close ally of Republican President Donald Trump, who received a higher percentage of the vote (70 percent) in 2016 in Wyoming than in any other state. Her platforms and votes have been largely directed at bolstering Wyoming’s key industries, and she’ll be letting voters know that this campaign season.
“If you look at overall where things stood when this Congress came into office and when President Trump came into office, we had a pretty clear agenda in terms of knowing we needed to provide regulatory relief across the board on our agriculture industry and for energy,” Cheney said. “We were going to roll back the kind of overreach we saw during the Obama administration, in particular, and what I think amounted to a war on the West.”
Steps toward doing that included using the Congressional Review Act to repeal rules such as the Bureau of Land Management’s “Planning 2.0,” which governed planning for future uses of federal public land in the West. Cheney also worked on the U.S. House’s successful repeal of Clean Water Rule (sometimes referred to as the “waters of the United States” rule, or WOTUS), which defined the scope of federal water protection. Such congressional actions, along with moves from the executive branch, have significantly rolled back environmental protections established during the Obama era.
Those efforts, combined with tax cuts passed by Congress and signed into law in 2017, have led to an economic situation that will help make her case for re-election, Cheney said.
“If you look nationwide, we’re at about 3.8 percent unemployment, and you can feel it at home, too, when talking to people around the state,” she said. “We have to continue to make sure we continue to see energy jobs come back, manufacturing jobs come back and make sure agriculture is protected as well.”
While Trump and his allies have talked up a generally thriving economy on the national stage, Wyoming continues to reel from an economic bust that started in late 2014. The energy sector has picked up recently, but state lawmakers are facing down an uncertain future. Economists and legislative leadership have said there’s no apparent relief on the horizon from a budget deficit between $500 million and more than $1 billion, depending on who is asked.
Cheney said she would continue pushing policies that she believes will eventually improve Wyoming’s long-term economic situation, including exploring West coast coal terminals that have so far limited the state’s ability to export its most important commodity.
Opponents on both sides of the aisle have tried to gain support for their campaigns by saying Cheney puts protected public lands at risk. But Cheney said she’s only looking for laws to govern how public lands are used and shift away from a trend in the past where “radical environmentalists” have, in her view, tried to govern through agencies and courts.
“If people don’t like what the law says, we ought to change it,” she said. “But we shouldn’t be using the court system to try to get around it or agency guidance to get around it, and that’s too often what’s happened in the past.”
With the candidate filing period over, it appears Cheney will face two primary challengers and whoever emerges from the Democratic primary between two Laramie progressives. None of those candidates have served in office before, and they have virtually no name recognition.
It could be argued Cheney’s opponents in 2016 split the vote, as the top three contenders in former state lawmaker Tim Stubson, Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta, and former Laramie County GOP Chairman Darin Smith totaled 48,235 compared to Cheney’s 35,043. But even those prominent and experienced opponents couldn’t overcome Cheney in the end, so it appears any primary challenges from political novices will likely come up short.
Cheney said she’ll be campaigning throughout the state when she’s not needed in Washington, D.C., and expects Wyoming Republicans, including herself, will prevail across the board in 2018.
There currently are no debates scheduled between candidates in the U.S. House race. But primary candidate Rod Miller of Cheyenne, in particular, has called on Cheney to debate him. Cheney said she’s not ruling out primary and general election debates, but will wait to see what comes up.
“I wouldn’t rule it out,” she said. “I look forward to seeing how that rolls out and engaging.”
Members of Congress are paid $174,000 annually. Members of the U.S. House serve two-year terms.