Founded by Drew Pearson 1932
Combining Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
WASHINGTON – With 576,412 residents, Wyoming is the least populated state in the union, but among those who call the mountainous state home are some towering figures, including former Senator Alan Simpson (R) who remains relevant on the national scene 16 years after leaving office, and former Vice President Dick Cheney (R), the most powerful vice president in history, and the state’s favorite son.
With Liz Cheney’s announcement that she is running against incumbent Senator Mike Enzi in next year’s Republican primary, the next generation of Cheneys is stepping up to the challenge of elective office from Wyoming. It’s not a very high step. The state has so few people, most of them Republicans, that the primary is the election, and elections can easily be won with a turnout of under 100,000 voters.
Setting aside the merits of Cheney, 46, a smart and edgy neo-conservative, versus Enzi, 69, a low-key and popular legislator, what were the founding fathers thinking when they paved the way to give so much power to a state with so few people. What they were thinking is Rhode Island versus Virginia, and making sure the small states weren’t cut out of the deal making on Capitol Hill.
Well, they overdid it. And it’s understandable. It never occurred to them that one state, i.e. Wyoming, would be so under-populated it would only be awarded a single representative, while another state, i.e. California, would grow to 38 million people in 2012 and warrant 53 representatives.
Yet the system they developed empowers senators from states like Alaska, Wyoming and yes, South Dakota, which gave us Tom Daschle (D), a distinguished Senate leader, so the system is not all bad – but it’s flawed in the sense that it gives an extraordinary amount of power to the small number of people who make the careers of these public servants possible, and allow Dick Cheney from this tiny base to rise to within one heartbeat from the presidency.
Cheney’s daughter is preparing her bid for a Senate seat based on her genetic affiliation with Wyoming (her forbears practically settled the state), her famous last name, and her move last year from Virginia, where she grew up, to Wyoming. The courtly and soft-spoken Enzi appears shell shocked at what is transpiring. He and Liz’ father are fishing and hunting buddies, but the former veep’s loyalty is to his daughter, and an expensive and potentially nasty race is about to unfold.
Enzi is among the most conservative members in the Senate, so Cheney will find slim pickings in his record with which to assail him. She’ll likely focus on his style, which is to work behind the scenes and not make waves, and draw a contrast with her own style, which is in your face and assertive, more like Senate newcomers, Republicans Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.
At least they’re from more populated states, Cruz from Texas and Paul from Kentucky. Watching Cheney and Enzi go at it will be like watching two scorpions in a bottle and questioning whether the survivor is legitimate to go toe to toe with other senators when he or she is determined by so few voters.
It’s a question that will get more urgent over time. If we project into the future that Wyoming doubles its population to, say, 1.2 million, and California doubles its population to 76 million, the disparity in power between residents of the two states is so out of kilter it could eventually force a re-thinking of the formula from the founding fathers.
They didn’t expect us to go blindly into the future without making some changes. One possible solution is consolidating smaller states like Montana, Wyoming and Idaho or at least having them share two senators as if they were one state. And the same formula could apply to North and South Dakota. Sure, there’d be a huge outcry, but think of the applause from all those people who feel under-represented in California, and New York, and Texas, and on and on.
© 2013 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
END WASHINGTON MERRY-GO-ROUND